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Ministers at ‘sixes and sevens’ over London transport advice and funding, says Unite

The Government is at “sixes and sevens” over its London transport policy and plans to get commuters back to work, according to Unite.

Unite says there are two key issues: the short-term and, often contradictory, government advice to get people back to work in London and the long-term financing of the London transport system

The union said that the £1.6bn government bailout – a combination of grant and loans – announced last week for Transport for London (TfL), after the dramatic slump in passenger numbers, had too onerous conditions attached to it, such as the reintroduction of congestion charges from this week (Monday 18 May) and that the funding was only for four months.

Unite London regional secretary Pete Kavanagh said: “There are two key issues here – the short term and, often contradictory, government advice to get people back to work in London and the long-term financing of the London transport system, once the pandemic is over.

“In terms of the £1.6bn bail-out, it is due to run for four months only, with very significant questions remaining about the future.

“We need a financial template as to how we go forward then to provide a sustainable, financially viable and joined-up transport system post-lockdown.

“Transport secretary Grant Shapps needs to engage realistically with all stakeholders concerned about the future of transport across Greater London, including the trade unions.

“Ministers have become adept at the ‘blame game’; first the scientists were being lined up and now it is Sadiq Khan, who is right to call for a new funding model which, in our view, must see sustained financial involvement from government in the years ahead.”

Unite has also echoed concerns expressed by other organisations about the contradictory messages from government – on one hand, encouraging people to return to work, but at the same time, telling them to avoid public transport.

For a full return to work to happen, more trains and buses would need to run with the necessary financial underpinning. Unite said that bus passenger levels in London were 25% of normal, but services were running at 85% to support key workers.

If levels returned to 100% , this would mean a massive ramping up of services, with a recruitment drive for staff, as there are currently shortages.

Pete Kavanagh added: Ministers are urging a return to work, but then saying avoid public transport, if you can.

“This is very difficult to do if you are commuting into London from across the south east and also social distancing in those circumstances would be almost impossible.

“It is no wonder people are confused by the contradictory advice.

“And it should not be forgotten that 33 bus workers in London have died from Covid-19 and we, therefore, warmly welcome TfL asking the UCL Institute of Health Equity to advise on an independent review into coronavirus infections and deaths among London’s bus workers.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.