Public transport and how Covid-19 has affected its operation will be the focus of the following question to the Government on 2 June 2020: “Baroness Randerson to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the provision of public transport”.
This article gives a brief introduction to some of the key issues and offers some suggestions for resources to help Members prepare for the question.
What impact has the pandemic had on public transport?
Since the UK went into ‘lockdown’, there have been reduced services on trains, buses and planes. As a result, use of public transport services has decreased: government data has shown the extent of this.
In some cases, reduced use of services has led to financial pressures. For example, the Local Government Association has said that bus companies may not be able to survive the crisis due to falling passenger numbers. It was also reported that Transport for London (TfL) was due to run out of money, with a monthly spend of £600 million and a 90% fall in incomes leaving the network “staring into a financial abyss”.
The case of a railway ticket office worker, Belly Mujinga, who died of coronavirus after being spat on while on duty, was also widely reported, highlighting the risks of infection for public transport workers. On 29 May 2020, British Transport Police said there was “no evidence to substantiate any criminal offences” had taken place “and that the tragic death of Belly Mujinga was not a consequence of this incident”. It has recently been announced that an independent review is to look at coronavirus infections and deaths among London’s bus workforce following more than 30 deaths of workers who contracted Covid-19.
What is the Government doing about public transport?
As part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has discouraged the use of public transport unless it is for an essential journey. It has also addressed how public transport will have to adjust in the future in response to the pandemic. In a statement to the House of Commons on 12 May 2020, the Government announced two pieces of guidance:
- Department for Transport, ‘Guidance: Coronavirus (Covid-19): Safer travel guidance for passengers’, last updated 23 May 2020.
- HM Government, Coronavirus (Covid-19): Safer Transport—Guidance for Operators, 12 May 2020.
The fall in public transport use has seen reduced revenue for operators. On 23 March 2020, the Government announced the partial nationalisation of the railways through emergency measure agreements for train operators on franchises. These transfer “all revenue and cost risk to the Government”. This, the Government says, is a “temporary” measure for six months, but there is the option for further extension or early cancellation.
The Government has since made other announcement about funding for public transport. For example, on 23 May 2020, the Government has provided “further funding to protect and increase transport services, level up infrastructure and regenerate local economies after coronavirus”. This includes money for buses, trams, and light rail, as well as other commitments to “make it easier for people to choose alternatives to public transport”.
In addition, the Government has committed funding specifically for London. On 15 May 2020, the Government announced a £1.6 billion funding and financing package for TfL to cover losses stemming from the coronavirus lockdown. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been critical of the conditions attached to the funding, including plans to give central government greater control of TfL’s finances.
House of Commons Transport Committee Inquiry: Coronavirus implications for transport
- House of Commons, ‘Written Question: Bus Services: Coronavirus’, 20 May 2020, 47262
- House of Lords, ‘Written Question: Public Transport: Coronavirus’, 20 May 2020, HL3919
- House of Lords, ‘Written Question: Public Transport: Coronavirus’, 20 May 2020, HL3837
- Oral Question on ‘Covid-19: Public Transport Workers and Key Worker Rail Users’, HC Hansard, 18 May 2020, cols 372–3
- House of Commons, ‘Written Question: Public Transport: Coronavirus’, 18 May 2020, 46749
- House of Lords, ‘Written Question: Public Transport: Coronavirus’, 13 May 2020, HL3578
- House of Lords, ‘Written Question: Public Transport: Coronavirus’, 13 May 2020, HL3579
- Private Notice Question on ‘Covid-19: Public Transport Safety’, HL Hansard, 12 May 2020, cols 572–5
- BBC News, ‘Coronavirus: Government pledges £283m for buses and trams’, 23 May 2020
- Simon Goodley, ‘Commuters heed warning to avoid train network in England’, Guardian, 18 May 2020
- Mark Sweney, ‘TfL to raise congestion charge by 30% as part of £1.6bn bailout deal’, Guardian, 15 May 2020
Useful websites and materials
- Rail Delivery Group https://media.raildeliverygroup.com/
- Confederation of Passenger Transport http://www.cpt-uk.org/
- Transport Focus https://www.transportfocus.org.uk/news-events-media/blog/
- Better Transport https://bettertransport.org.uk/
- Bus Users https://bususers.org/news/
- World Bank transport pages https://blogs.worldbank.org/transport
- Urban Transport Group http://www.urbantransportgroup.org/
- Imperial College transport research http://www.imperial.ac.uk/transport-studies/transport-strategy-centre/applied-research/covid-19/
- House of Commons Library transport pages https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/category/economy-business/transport/
This In Focus article was updated on 29 May following a British Transport Police statement concerning the death of Belly Mujinga.
Image by Ben Garratt from Unsplash.