London Underground services will be cut even further once more staff become ill or self-isolate due to the coronavirus, Sadiq Khan has warned.
The Mayor of London issued the warning amid a row between him and the Government over why Tube carriages remain packed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock claims there is “no good reason” why timetables have been cut to the extent they have, saying “we should have more Tube trains running” so passengers can travel with a safe distance between each other.
But Mr Khan said services have been reduced becauses nearly a third of Transport for London’s (TfL) staff are off sick or self-isolating, including train drivers and control centre workers.
UPDATE: My message to Londoners about our public transport network.
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 25, 2020
He went on: “TfL will do everything possible to continue safely running a basic service for key workers, including our amazing NHS staff, but if the number of TfL staff off sick or self-isolating continues to rise – as we sadly expect it will – we will have no choice but to reduce services further.”
Crowd control measures have been introduced, and British Transport Police officers are patrolling stations to remind passengers that only essential travel is permitted.
The mayor added that “too many of the people using TfL services at the busiest times work in construction”, as he reiterated his call for the Government to ban non-safety construction work.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick insisted construction workers should continue to go to work amid the coronavirus crisis if social distancing and other safety precautions can be met.
The Cabinet minister told BBC Breakfast: “If you or your employer believes you can continue to operate safely within those guidelines then it’s sensible for you to do so.”
House-builders Bellway and Persimmon are shutting construction sites despite being allowed to stay open amid the lockdown to help protect workers from coronavirus.
The Tube is operating at around 50% of its normal capacity during peak times.
Mr Khan said TfL’s early-morning data suggests passenger numbers were down by a third on Wednesday compared with Tuesday. They were already reduced by 88% on Tuesday compared with the same day last year.
But some carriages remained packed, leading to passengers complaining about the risk to their health while commuting.
👉 Making non-essential journeys risks lives
👉 Only travel if your journey is absolutely essential
ℹ️ Key workers, if your journey is essential, the busiest times are 05:45-07:30 and 16:00-17:30. If possible you may want to avoid these times.https://t.co/tciCbDwoUy
— Transport for London #StayHomeSaveLives (@TfL) March 25, 2020
Shortly before 7am, a senior nurse named Danny posted on Twitter: “Another busy tube. Can we not stagger people’s start times so we aren’t all squashed on the same tube! This is unsafe and not fair!”
Barry Trimble, who said his work involves ensuring cancer patients receive chemotherapy, posted: “The Tube is packed, with social distancing impossible. We need more people to stay at home and more trains running in morning and evening peak.”
Ajad Miah, 38, a store manager in food retail from Barking, told the PA news agency “I fear for mine and my family’s life” due to the risk of being infected on packed Tube trains.
He described his commute on Wednesday morning as “a disaster” after it took an extra hour due to the reduced service.
He added: “If I had a choice to stay home over this then I would; however, for us who work in food shops, our lives are less important I guess.”