Row over tube service reductions


THERE WAS disagreement between the Mayor of London and the Government in late March over the level of London Underground services provided during the coronavirus crisis.

Quiet: a deserted Circle Line train at Bayswater during the Friday evening rush hour on 20 March. The following week tube services were reduced significantly, leading to criticism of overcrowding.
Keith Fender

On 18 March TfL announced the implementation of reduced services, beginning on Friday 20 March. These included the withdrawal of services on the Waterloo & City Line and of Night Tube and Night Overground services and the closure of up to 40 tube stations. From Monday 23 March frequencies were reduced on most tube lines, with TfL saying it aimed to run tube trains every four minutes within Zone 1. Other TfL services were also reduced, including London Overground, TfL Rail, the DLR and London Trams. In practice, on 23 March TfL was advertising service frequencies of between seven and 15 minutes on tube lines, and the Circle Line had also been suspended.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan made a series of statements advising passengers to avoid using the tube where possible, but also criticised the Government for not closing construction sites and being slow in providing support to self-employed workers, which he believed was causing significant numbers of people still to travel. On 24 March TfL announced it was bringing all its construction sites, including for the Crossrail project, to a ‘temporary safe stop’ unless they needed to continue for operational safety reasons.

The Government in turn criticised the Mayor and TfL for the level of service reductions on the tube, with ministers suggesting TfL should operate a full service. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons Transport Committee on 25 March that services on the Underground ‘had been reduced too much compared to the number of people who still needed to work’ and the problem was ‘not solely construction workers needing to travel’.

In a statement on 25 March, Mr Khan reported tube ridership the previous day was 88% down on the same day last year, but said nearly one-third of TfL’s staff were off work either sick of self-isolating, making the operation of additional services impractical. On 7 April Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said tube ridership was down 94% year-on-year. On 8 April the Mayor reported 14 TfL workers had sadly died due to coronavirus, the majority of them bus drivers.

DLR services were generally described as operating at a 10-minute frequency and London Trams every 15 minutes. TfL Rail services west of the capital from Paddington to Reading and Heathrow were operating half-hourly, while the Liverpool Street to Shenfield route on the east side was running every 10 minutes. On London Overground services were withdrawn from Surrey Quays to New Cross and frequencies reduced on most other routes, with many operating at half the usual frequency.