Transport Secretary tells workers it’s their 'civic duty' to avoid public transport

14 May 2020, 19:21 | Updated: 14 May 2020, 19:41

People are bing told it is their "civil duty" to avoid using public transport
People are bing told it is their "civil duty" to avoid using public transport. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been criticised by union leaders after telling workers it is their "civic duty" to avoid using public transport, days after people were told to go back to their jobs.

Mr Shapps, speaking from Downing Street on Thursday afternoon, said people had a "civic duty" to avoid public transport if at all possible during the coronavirus crisis so the government can "carefully and cautiously restart the economy."

Instead, he urged people to use their car if they cannot walk or cycle to work.

He added that social distancing would be almost impossible on buses, tubes and trains, with space only being available for one in 10 people.

It comes amid an ongoing dispute between London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the government over London's transport in lockdown.

Earlier today Mr Khan said TfL needs a government bailout by the end of the Thursday to stop them having to cut services.

Speaking on LBC this morning, Mr Khan said the service was close to running out of cash, and said government support is the only way that they can continue to provide reliable public transport without the usual passenger numbers.

Mr Shapp's remarks were immediately condemned by RMT union bosses who accused the government of "not lifting a finger" to prevent crowded tubes, trains and buses during the coronavirus lockdown.

Rail, Maritime and Transport Union General Secretary Mick Cash said it was "disgraceful" to shift the blame on to workers who have no choice but to use public transport after being told by No 10 that they should return to work if possible.

The union chief argued it is the government's responsibility to uphold the safety of passengers and staff using the services.

"The confusing, contradictory and potentially lethal approach from the government, which says on the one hand when we go outside our homes into open spaces two-metre social distancing must be maintained at all times, but then, on the other hand, the government is not lifting a finger to prevent the cramming of passengers into confined spaces on bus, train and tube services," Mr Cash said.

"The government needs to urgently launch a new deal for transport that puts the safety of the public and transport workers first, boosts public investment and the public ownership of our transport networks."

At today's daily government update on the coronavirus crisis, Mr Shapps was asked whether commuters could expect higher fares in future. He said: "On higher fares, it is very important I think in providing a rescue package for TfL that the London mayor can work with that we don't end up in a situation where people from outside the capital are unfairly carrying the burden."

He added: "There is the right balance to be made."

Mr Shapps said the government was working with local authorities on parking places in towns and cities, after being asked if charges and restrictions could be scrapped.

He told the press conference: "There are times now where we are literally encouraging people to drive perhaps close to, but maybe not right into perhaps, a town or city that they work in and find a place to park.

"So we are working not just with local authorities on this but also with some large entertainment venues who have car parks which aren't being used at the moment."

The transport secretary also announced a £2 billion fund to upgrade the UK's roads and railways which will "relieve pressure" on public transport.

He said the lockdown had given them the chance to carry out an "update programme" on a range of maintenance projects.

Mr Shapps also promised to get rid of the "bureaucratic bindweed" that prevents British infrastructure projects from being completed swiftly, making them some of the most expensive and slowest in the world.

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