In the light of the crowds we have seen packed on station platforms, commuter services, and the Tube in London, Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ trade union, said today:
‘Today was, sadly, a day every ASLEF member could see coming. Photos are emerging all over social media of Tube trains and commuter services packed with people unable to socially distance in line with government recommendations.
‘People are getting understandably angry. I am, too. But I’ll tell you whose fault it isn’t. First, those who are travelling on these services. Nobody, considering the risk to which they are exposing themselves, and their loved ones, would travel on these services if they didn’t feel they had to, either through economic necessity or because they are key workers. The reality is that nearly every single passenger has thought hard and long and worked out that if they don’t take these services, their boss won’t pay them. Or they’ll be laid off. Or that, as a key worker, people’s welfare will suffer.
‘Whilst many white collar workers sit safely at home, these workers who don’t have this option are being, in the words of the Prime Minister, “actively encouraged to go back to work”, and often have no means to do so other than travelling by public transport. They are victims here.
‘And I will tell you who else is not to blame; transport workers. The last few days have seen the usual quarters blame trade unions for the transport woes. We’ve been called “wreckers” and “militants”. They have claimed that it’s our refusal to run more services that results in commuters’ inability to socially distance themselves.
‘Utter nonsense! Let’s look at the reality. On the Tube, a TfL report has stated that even a fully functioning Underground network that maintained social distancing of two metres would only carry 15% of its normal rush hour capacity.
‘On the main line, the Transport Secretary has announced that, even if we ran at full capacity, to maintain social distancing would mean only one in ten passengers could travel.
‘To add to this, services can’t magically be ramped up. Many transport workers are having to self-isolate. Some rail infrastructure means services cannot safely be increased whilst staff are kept safe without alterations.
‘ASLEF desperately wants as many services to run as possible. But we will only increase services when it is safe to do so. Safe for passengers and safe for staff.
‘But be under no false illusion. Our railway and Tube network are bursting at the seams during peak times at the best of times. They simply do not allow for social distancing with anywhere near the normal number of commuters. We do not have the capacity. We can only control demand.
‘So I ask people. Please do not blame workers traveling on public transport. Do not blame transport workers and their unions. Blame those who leave workers with no other option than to take those journeys. And, if you can avoid public transport in any way, please do.’