Coronavirus - we're here to help
From how to access your account online, scam awareness, your wellbeing and our community we're here to help.

Skip to main content
  • Register
  • Help
  • Contact us
  • Log in to HL Account

Get rid of rush hour to make public transport safe again post-Covid, think tank says

Recommendations are about making public transport as safe as possible in the circumstances, said the authors of the paper, Pandemic-proofing Travel.

Article originally published by The Telegraph. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

Shops, businesses and schools should consider staggered opening times, Tony Blair's think tank suggests

No more rush hours, buses cleaned by UV and a digital identity app that proves you are Covid-19 free before you fly: these are the recommendations for getting the UK back on public transport in the wake of the pandemic.

Commuters should also not be allowed to board unless they are wearing a mask, staff on planes, trains and buses should have full face shields, and trains should get air filters similar to those on planes, according to a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change shared exclusively with The Telegraph.

The sweeping recommendations acknowledge the fact that getting the public to travel safely on public transport-and international flights-will be extremely difficult considering that coronavirus spreads most effectively in indoor, poorly-ventilated environments, particularly if people are close together.

As such, the recommendations are about making public transport as safe as possible in the circumstances, said the authors of the paper, Pandemic-proofing Travel.

Daniel Sleat, special advisor to Tony Blair at the institute, said: "It's trying to do the best we can to mitigate the risk-nothing is going to be completely safe, and the biggest difference we can make, aside from masks, is social distancing. And the way to do that is by dramatically reducing demand, and dramatically reducing capacity."

Working with government, he suggested that businesses, schools, and the retail sector would all have to consider their starting times and the way they do business-or, as the paper puts it, "removing rush hour".

"We're talking about at the very minimum staggered starting times, but to get anywhere close to reducing demand, we have to embrace working from home more, and for some companies, that is really about rethinking what an office is for. Everybody going in for 9, that's just not sustainable," he said.

Mr Sleat said this should be embraced "like a military operation", with different sectors working together, but stressed that the biggest issue was companies making long-term changes in the way they work, with working from home the norm in many cases. That was important to protect those who did need to use public transport to reach their workplaces, like teachers and hospital workers, he said.

For example, the numbers of people using the London Underground now was probably already as many as it could cope with in order for people to be confident they were safe on board, he said. Operators themselves have outlined the challenge: if people are to stay 2 metres apart on board, rail companies have said that passenger capacity will have to be reduced by between 70 and 90 per cent, and by 55 per cent if it is 1 metre. Transport for London has said its capacity will only be around 13-15 per cent of normal on tubes and buses in the capital.

"We have to effectively do away with those packed crowds during peak travel times," Mr Sleat said, or the UK was extremely likely to see a second deadly wave of coronavirus.

The suggestions from the think tank come as the UK government has been trying to encourage the nation to travel again. It is set to amend travel advice to a number of nations to encourage holidaymakers.

Public transport use and flying plummeted during lockdown, by up to 90 per cent in different cities around the world. But getting people back on the networks is crucial for the global economic recovery, both in the UK and globally, the paper argues.

Travel and tourism accounts for 10.3 per cent, or $9trn, of the global economy, and represents one in ten jobs. Fourteen per cent of the UK workforce uses public transport daily, rising to 49 per cent in London.

Contrary to what may be expected, planes are actually among the safest forms of mass transport, the report found, because the high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters used on board effectively replace the air every three minutes.

However, travellers should still be tested to prove they are not infectious before they travel because of the risks of spreading the disease across borders and at airports. A "digital identity", or app, proving their status could be one way to manage this process, the report suggested.

Andrew Bennett, policy analyst at the institute, said: "Identity is the missing piece of the government’s strategy to exit the lockdown, so to accelerate delivery the government urgently needs to set out the necessary technical standards and the social protections required to secure public consent."

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the London Underground and other metro systems were perhaps the most risky, the report said, because of the lack of ventilation. Opening windows on overground trains and buses was a simple way to help prevent the spread of the virus, it suggested.

It also recommended more stringent mask-wearing regulations were enforced, with drivers given the power to refuse travel to people not wearing them. While face coverings are theoretically already mandatory on public transport in the UK, use has been patchy.

The report also suggests better personal protective equipment (PPE) for drivers and other workers, hand sanitiser stationed throughout the network, and regular cleaning of buses and trains where possible, including the use of ultraviolet light that has been trialled in Shanghai, as UV radiation can kill the virus. Longer-term, it suggests looking at whether HEPA-style filters could be used on trains as well as planes.

Moreover, it is important that people know that these measures are in place, to help them feel safe, the report said.

In the foreword, former minister for transport Lord Andrew Adonis argued: "Competent demonstration that this new approach is taking place, with a full demonstration of this “new normal” to and through the media, is vital to building the confidence necessary for the public to start using public transport again."


This article was written by Jennifer Rigby from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Article originally published by The Telegraph. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

Free news email alerts

  • Daily and weekly news
  • Major Publishers
Register