Only use public transport as last resort, government says as lockdown eased

Motorists told to give cyclists space and passengers advised face coverings could be useful

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 12 May 2020 11:57 BST
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Passengers are being advised to find other ways of getting to their destination
Passengers are being advised to find other ways of getting to their destination

Public transport should only be used as a last resort as the coronavirus lockdown is eased, new government guidance to travellers says.

The updated advice, published on Tuesday morning, spells out how travellers should act across a variety of modes of transport – and recommends that they should consider walking or cycling for all or part of their journey.

The guidance includes a warning to drivers to expect more cyclists on the road, and advises passengers on when face coverings should be used.

“Consider all other forms of transport before using public transport,” the government document says.

People are also being advised to consider making a list of items to bring with them before they travel, including contactless payment cards, hand sanitiser, tissues, and a face covering.

However, face coverings remain optional and are not required by the law, in contrast to some countries which have made them mandatory.

“There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure,” the guidance states.

“The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas.”

It adds that “if you can, wear a face covering if you need to use public transport”.

The government is keen to stress, however, that face coverings are “not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of personal protective equipment”.

“These should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings, like those exposed to dust hazards,” the government says.

People using public transport are advised to use a less busy route where possible, and to take other actions such as “walk the first or last mile of your journey, or alight at an earlier station”.

Motorists are told to “anticipate more pedestrians and cyclists than usual, especially at peak times of day”.

The message is clear – everyone should avoid public transport if at all possible.

Assistant Chief Constable Sean O’Callaghan, British Transport Police

And amid reports of increased speeding and aggressive driving during the lockdown, people behind the wheel are told to give space to people on bikes – many of whom will be inexperienced riders.

“Allow other road users to maintain social distance, where possible,” the advice for motorists states.

“For example, give cyclists space at traffic lights. Public Health England recommends keeping a two metre distance from others, where possible.”

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “Transport operators and staff have been working hard to ensure that people who need to get to work are able to do so, including crucial NHS workers and all those on the front line of the fight against the virus.

“Alongside the cycling and walking revolution we are launching, and clear guidance to passengers and operators published today, we can all play our part by following the advice and reducing pressure on public transport.

“If we take these steps, all those who need to use public transport should feel confident that they can do so safely, with the space to maintain social distancing as far as possible.”

Responding to the advice, Assistant Chief Constable Sean O’Callaghan of the British Transport Police said: “The message is clear – everyone should avoid public transport if at all possible.

“Our officers are out and about across the rail network, focusing their time at stations where they are most needed. At some of the busier stations you may see more officers than usual. They’re there to help keep passengers and rail staff safe – helping get people to where they need to be safely.

“If you don’t need to travel by rail or Tube, then don’t – and if you do need to, give yourself plenty of time. Perhaps speak to your employer and stagger the times you would normally go to and from work and avoid rush hours where possible. We all have a role to play in keeping the rail network safe.

“Our policing approach remains the same. Our officers will be engaging with passengers and staff and will only use enforcement if absolutely necessary.

“No one should underestimate the immense logistical challenge facing the rail industry and its staff as it works to keep people who need to use the network moving. They’re taking extra steps to ensure people stay safe, including aiding social distancing and keeping overcrowding to a minimum. These steps mean everyone is going to have to get used to a new way of travelling.

“In line with government guidance, you may see our officers wearing face coverings when on routine patrol. They’ll be wearing them when they themselves feel it is necessary – for example in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible.

“We will of course also continue with our business-as-usual policing during this unprecedented time – countering terrorism; reducing delays and disruption; preventing and detecting crime and identifying and helping vulnerable people in crisis.

“And we will continue to conduct operations – such as county lines – to tackle organised crime, catch offenders and bring people to justice.

“All of us – passengers, rail staff and our officers – want to be safe when we’re working and using the rail network and we need to support each other so we can all do the right thing. The responsibility to keep everyone safe is one everyone shares.”

Robert Nisbet, a director at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “As the government has said, people should only use trains if they have no alternative. There will be space for as few as a tenth of the usual number of passengers so we need everyone’s help to keep trains for those who really need them, so please only use the railway if you absolutely have to.”

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