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25 March 2020

Who’s to blame for London’s overcrowded Tube trains?

People are following the new guidelines but 18 per cent of workers in the capital are in the key category. 

By Stephen Bush

Who’s to blame for London’s crowded Tube network? Pictures of rammed carriages and busy platforms are making national headlines and being shared on social media. 

The reality – as Transport for London’s own passenger data shows – is that Londoners are observing the government’s new guidelines. Journeys on the Underground have fallen by 88 per cent year-on-year. Bus journeys have fallen by 76 per cent year-on-year. The problem is that due to a combination of planned reductions and workers in self-isolation, Tube services have also been sharply reduced: hence the crowded platforms. 

Remember that more than 22 per cent of people across the country as a whole are key workers and in London it’s 18 per cent. Companies like Wetherspoons which leave their workers in the lurch are a big moral problem – but they aren’t contributing significantly to the logistical problem of moving key workers around London (which is a foretaste of the problems that are beginning to be felt on commuter rail services around the country). 

The transport question that would be occupying me, were I in central or devolved government, is that 12 per cent gap between the fall in Tube journeys and those by bus. Is that primarily an unavoidable consequence of who London’s key workers are and how they get to work? An inevitable consequence of how people go shopping for food and essentials? A knock-on effect of the fact that the self-employed still don’t have the same level of income protection as full-time workers? 

It’s probably a mixture of all those and more. But the reality is that people are following the new guidelines and trying to help out, as the tens of thousands who have signed up to provide support to people in self-isolation also show.

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