In the last month, 26 staff from London’s transport network died. Most were bus workers. And instead of taking action himself, the Mayor says he needs more international collaboration
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for international collaboration. After all, London is a global city.
But right now, the people who need the Mayor of London the most are Londoners. There are 25,000 bus drivers counting on the Mayor to protect them. There are thousands of key workers relying on the Mayor for safer commutes. He doesn’t need international collaboration for this. He just needs to make our transport safer.
Read more: Mayor and No10 at war over tube services
We should remember why TfL staff are key workers. They put themselves in harm’s way so that doctors and nurses can get to hospitals. Every day that TfL staff turn up for work is another day our NHS can function.
And while TfL staff are doing a great job, they don’t have it easy.
For a start, the Mayor has ordered reduced services across London’s transport. That means fewer buses and fewer tubes — making social distancing almost impossible. We’ve all seen the photos and videos of dangerously crowded tubes. Rush hour just isn’t safe for staff or key workers.
They’re looking for the Mayor to show leadership — not just in the press, but here in London, on our streets. That’s what the Mayor was elected to do. Even former TfL board members like Michael Liebreich are saying the Mayor needs to step up.
Over the Easter weekend, Liebreich pointed to the discrepancy between infection rates among NHS and TfL staff. There are roughly 60,000 transport workers in London and roughly 1.5m NHS staff across the country. Yet London has lost 26 transport workers to coronavirus and the NHS has lost 35.
That means London’s transport workers are 18 times more likely to lose their life to coronavirus, than the trained medical professionals in our NHS working with coronavirus patients on a daily basis.
Why is someone more likely to catch coronavirus on a London bus than they are in a hospital?
Something needs to be done. So here are three things the Mayor can do right now to make our buses safer.
First, buses should be deep cleaned after every trip. That means disinfecting everything, including the air conditioning.
This is what other cities are doing. Shanghai is using UV light to disinfect their bus fleet every day and Hong Kong is using robots. Prague is testing a nanotechnology that will clean their public transport. New York and Los Angeles are also following suit.
The whole process takes about two hours. And if those two hours create a safer environment for drivers, then that’s two hours well spent.
Second, bus drivers should be given health screenings. If possible, they should be screened before every shift. Authorities in most Chinese cities now check the temperatures of transport staff every day.
This would help keep passengers safe. And it means that any driver with symptoms could be sent home to recover — instead of risking their life by continuing to work.
Third, protective gear should be compulsory. I’m talking about face masks and gloves for drivers and passengers. Protective gear is standard in most Chinese cities. Austria, as well as various cities in Germany also now require passengers to wear protective masks. Two weeks ago, the Kenyan Health Secretary ordered the same.
It’s what the unions here are asking for. And it’s what our bus drivers are asking for too.
Up to now, the Mayor has claimed that he can’t find enough face masks and gloves. That’s why my team and I have been lining up potential suppliers. So far, we’ve sourced 600,000 KN95 face masks and 600,000 heavyweight vinyl gloves. Enough to protect every single bus worker for thirty days.
So if the Mayor can’t find protective gear, I’m ready to put him in touch with people who can.
I know that times are tough for everyone, including the Mayor. But he chose to take on the job. Now he needs to take on the responsibilities that come with it. And if he steps up, he’ll have my full support.
So let’s make our buses safer. Let’s protect the key workers who rely on the bus to get to work each day. And let’s protect the people who get them there.