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London's transport system 'could be swamped' if social distancing rules apply after lockdown

London’s transport system could be ‘rapidly overwhelmed’ if social distancing rules still apply after lockdown, according to a briefing for emergency planners.

Packed carriage full of passengers on March 20th travelling on the Victoria Line

The warning was given in a presentation on likely scenarios to London’s Strategic Coordination Group, organising the capital’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Transport for London believes the re-opening of schools would be enough to swamp the bus network, leaving no room for essential workers like NHS staff. School children account for 1.5m journeys on London buses on a normal weekday.

Officials think it's impossible to maintain the two-metre social distancing rule on a major urban transport network.

A sign at an entrance to the Underground station at London's Paddington Station

An SCG source told ITV News the briefing document set out the risks, including additional pressure on the police, but further work was needed to come up with a workable plan.

Ideas include government media campaigns to encourage continued working from home, persuading more schoolchildren to walk or cycle and, as ‘a last resort’, queuing procedures at Tube and rail stations.

City Hall wants government scientists to advise on whether face masks offer enough protection to reduce the two metre social distancing range.

In an interview with ITV News Mayor Sadiq Khan hinted at possible travel restrictions on some Londoners based on their age or where they live.

When it comes to modifying lockdown it will be in phases. It could be by geography, some areas go first. It could be by age.

When it comes to construction workers for example going back to work we’ve got to stagger the times that sites open and the times that sites close. The same goes for schools.

We can’t have all schools opening at the same time.

– Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

We are working with Government to understand how the restrictions may be lifted, including what the expectations will be on social distancing.

This will dictate how many people can be safely carried on our services and the extent to which mitigating measures, like re-timing journeys to spread demand out of peak times and managing stations differently will be needed.

– TRANSPORT FOR LONDON SPOKESPERSON

The document referred to contains a number of planning scenarios based on current social distancing measures to assist planners prepare for the relaxation of the current restrictions.

These should not be seen as what will happen but it is important that emergency planners understand all the implications and the impact that any changes to lockdown measures could have on individual organisations and the wider public.

– STRATEGIC COORDINATION GROUP SPOKESPERSON

This leaked report is a wake up call for anyone pushing to lift the lockdown and get transport services jacked up in preparation. Any such moves are fraught with ‎lethal danger and once again it is transport workers right in the front line.

RMT has made it clear from the start of the crisis that this trade union will agree to nothing that compromises the health, safety and livelihoods of our remembers. That remains our position.

It would be gross negligence for the Government to loosen their own social distancing guidelines on the transport network. Our members are entitled to the same levels of protection as the wider public.

RMT has issued clear guidance to our members that they have a right not to be forced to work in an unsafe environment and we are reiterating that guidance in the light of this leaked report.

– Mick Cash, RMT