What social distancing? Commuters pack on to Tubes, trains and buses as coronavirus lockdown eases

Commuters and passengers have packed on to Tubes, trains and buses as the lockdown in England begins to ease.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s road map out of the lockdown encourages employees to return to offices and factories where “it is safe to do so”.

But scenes on Wednesday morning showed crowds packing on to public transport, as many made the return to work.

Footage from Stratford, east London, showed a stream of people leaving a bus, where “no social distancing” was taking place.

Pictures from Canning Town and Clapham Junction in the capital showed crowds waiting for Tubes and trains and even queues to get into Seven Sisters station in north London.

A care worker travelling on a bus to work took a picture of a packed Number 13 bus in north London, as she made her way to work.

Transport for London said the number of passengers using the London Underground on Wednesday from the start of service to 6am was up by 8.7% compared with the same period last week.

But Downing Street said there had been no “significant” increase in public transport use in London in response to the lockdown easing.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “TfL is not reporting significant increases on the London network this morning compared to the last few days.”

Asked why the lockdown in England was being eased before the test, track and trace programme was up and running, the spokesman said the medical and scientific advice was that it was “safe to do so”.

“If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have followed this course,” the spokesman added.

During PMQs Boris Johnson said he did not want to see overcrowding in the capital or anywhere else.

Mr Johnson said the government is "working actively" with TfL to discourage people from going to work during the peak and asking the operators to lay on more services "when those are necessary throughout the day."

The unions responded to the packed carriages and buses, saying it shows how “fraught with danger” government’s return to work message is.

London Underground workers said there was “complete shambles” during the suspension of part of the Victoria Line after reports that a passenger had collapsed.

“Social distancing during the peak was a joke. During the suspension our carriages were heaving – it will get worse,” said one worker.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: “This incident shows just how fraught with danger the government’s return to work call is for our transport services in the midst of this pandemic.

“One incident and we are reduced to crisis management with reports that social distancing is impossible with Tube carriages rammed.

“RMT warned this would happen and we were ignored. We are monitoring the situation across services this morning and will discuss any appropriate action with our local reps.”

The Department for Transport issued new guidance on travelling on public transport on Tuesday, advising passengers to wear a face covering if you can, but were not enforcing the rule.

The rush hour scenes showed some travellers wearing face coverings but a lot of people were not.

Finn Brennan, an official at train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “It is really distressing to see the pictures of packed Tube trains this morning and so many people not wearing masks.

“It is unlawful to bring an open container of alcohol on to to TfL (Transport for London) services, but people are being asked, rather than told, to cover their faces to protect others.

“From next week, London Underground intends to revert to pre-Covid-19 duty schedules, which will increase the risk of infection to train drivers. They are ignoring our concerns about the safety of staff and passengers alike.”

Grant Shapps warned that the government will have to “take steps” if too many people try to use the public transport system.

The Transport Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we see the R number go up again – particularly above one – we will have to take steps. We all know what that means – it means going back to staying at home.

“We have got a big team of marshallers going out through Network Rail, Transport for London, we have got the British Transport Police out there, and we are even bringing in volunteers to remind people that we don’t want to see platforms crowded.”