Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.
London is facing an unprecedented challenge – we have mere weeks to turn the tide on the coronavirus before the capital reaches the dreaded peak. The actions the government has taken to stop the spread of the virus will save thousands of lives and Londoners are looking to Mayor Khan to lead the way.
Every single morning this week, we have seen shocking pictures of crowded platforms and Tube trains, despite government instructions to stay at home and avoid public transport. Khan’s failure to manage the Tube properly is putting London’s doctors, nurses, police officers, and teachers, who must still travel to work to keep our city safe, at risk of catching the virus.
It’s distressing to see NHS workers taking to Twitter to vent their anger about their commute, putting them at greater risk for their crucial hospital work. One such nurse Julia Harris, who commutes to Imperial College NHS Trust, tweeted “travelling to and from work at the hospital is starting to scare me”, and an NHS sonographer Nicola Smith tweeted her plea “Sadiq Khan – put the Tube service back to normal so we can all spread out”.
It’s hard not to think that the Mayor’s decision to reduce Transport for London’s services has inadvertently turned the Tube into a petri dish for coronavirus. This dangerous situation is not only putting London’s essential workers at risk who must continue to travel, but also turbocharging the spread of the virus in London. Unless the Mayor can urgently resolve this situation, he will have failed London’s NHS heroes on two fronts: by putting them at risk on their commute to work and failing to stop the spread of the virus which threatens to overwhelm them.
Clearly, some Londoners are using the Tube unnecessarily when they should be at home. That’s why earlier this week, I called for the Mayor to deploy police officers to deter non-essential workers from using the London Underground. I am pleased that Khan adopted the suggestion and we saw British Transport Police at busy Tube stations on Wednesday morning. However, the Mayor should consider using the Met to give a greater police presence on the Underground to stop irresponsible journeys.
However, it may be the case that the reduced service TfL is providing is just not sufficient for essential workers to travel across the city safely. The Mayor must be guided by the evidence on this; if it’s clear more services are needed to protect London’s NHS heroes, he must provide them. However, it’s not clear that the Mayor is even in the control of Transport for London’s services.
During the course of one day, the number of TfL staff who are sick or self-isolating rose from 20 per cent to a third while Sadiq Khan toured TV studios to explain why his hands were tied on tube services. Worse still, the Mayor believes this number will rise, and TfL may have to reduce their services further.
The Mayor must urgently take action to bolster TfL staff to sustain London’s transport network and provide more services to protect NHS workers. Former Deputy Chairman of TfL Daniel Moylan set out excellent questions on actions Khan must be taking to address TfL’s staffing problem. I put these questions in a letter to Sadiq Khan yesterday to see what, if any, action he is taking. I asked the Mayor:
- How many TfL managers with station operator licences have been deployed?
- How many recently retired/redundant staff have been asked back to work?
- Have all the Night Tube drivers been redeployed to day shifts?
- Have drivers been asked to defer leave and to work additional hours (for extra pay)?
- Is the absence rate amongst operations staff consistent with broader London experience? If not, what steps will be taken?
- Have the Tube unions been asked to relax restrictive practices?
The Mayor needs to answer these questions and explain why he isn’t taking these actions to keep London’s essential workers moving. While the rest of the country is digging deep and coming up with solutions to keep everyone safe, Khan needs to act now. TfL is an essential service; more trains may be required, and he needs to be able to deliver them to keep our city safe.