Monday 20 April 2020 6:00 am

Coronavirus: Decision to cut Tube services caused overcrowding, say transport watchdogs

A decision made by Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) to reduce Tube services has caused overcrowding during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the UK’s two largest transport watchdogs.

The mayor of London, on numerous occasions, blamed overcrowding on some Tube lines to people using the network unnecessarily at peak times.

Read more: Coronavirus: Government goes to war with City Hall over London Tube restrictions

This caused a war of words between Khan and the government last month, after health secretary Matt Hancock said the overcrowding was caused by his decision to dramatically cut Tube services and that people were at risk of spreading Covid-19 if public transport was busy.

The mayor fired back at Hancock, saying that one-third of TfL staff were off ill and that services could not be increased.

A joint report by watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch seen by City A.M, and to be released later today, said that a cut in services was indeed to blame for the overcrowding.

The report said that one of its findings was that “overcrowded Tube trains due to reduced frequencies have led to a lack of social distancing”.

The report said that when making journeys “the majority of Londoners are walking rather than taking public transport, although car use is significant”.

This fits with the latest government figures showing that Tube usage is down by 95 per cent since February.

Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey said the report showed Khan had “botched efforts to keep Londoners safe” and that his “decision to dramatically cut the Tube service has had dire consequences”.

Last month, Khan moved to reduce Tube numbers to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, with services now running at 55 per cent capacity at rush hour.

He also closed 40 Tube stations and completely shut down the Circle line.

This caused a public backlash from some when pictures emerged of overcrowded Tube carriages at peak times, with some calling for a resumption of services back to normal levels.

A spokesperson for the mayor said it was not possible to increase Tube services as one-third of TfL staff, including drivers and control centre staff, were off sick or self-isolating.

They added: “The mayor has been clear that Transport for London is running the maximum number of services possible with the limited staff resources available. 

“The mayor continues to urge Londoners to only use the transport network for essential travel and that people should work from home whenever possible to help protect key workers who need to travel.”

Read more: Coronavirus: London mayor Sadiq Khan calls for face masks on Tube

Andy Lord, managing director of the London Underground, added: “Our clear message to Londoners is not to travel, but for any absolutely essential journeys to be made later in the day, if possible.

“The majority of people are playing their part and we need people to continue to not travel, to stay at home and to save lives.”