Middle-door boarding and temporary free bus travel announced to protect London bus drivers
17 April 2020, 11:25 | Updated: 17 April 2020, 11:38
Passengers will only be allowed to board London's buses using the middle door in a new safety measure announced by Transport for London.
Middle-door only boarding will be temporarily introduced from Monday to protect drivers and keep passengers safe from the coronavirus, the operator said in a statement.
Bus travel will also be temporarily free from Monday. Speaking on LBC, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan explained this is to protect the lives of London bus drivers.
The changes follow concerns due to the 20 bus workers in the capital who have died after testing positive to Covid-19.
Overall, a total of 26 transport workers in the capital have passed away from confirmed Covid-19 during the pandemic, Transport for London said.
Earlier, Mr Khan tweeted: "It breaks my heart that 20 London bus workers have lost their lives to #COVID19. It could easily have been my dad & his friends."
"In the short term, people won't be paying for bus travel in London, it will be free while we install all the necessary contactless machines," Mr Khan told LBC.
"Once there are enough contactless machines to put in the middle doors of buses, then fares will be back in place," he said.
Today I announced additional action to keep drivers safe, with middle-door only boarding on buses from Monday on top of enhanced cleaning & new protective screens on drivers’ cabs. Our transport workers are heroes and we must do everything we can to protect them.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) April 17, 2020
When asked about the possibility of increased fare avoidance as a result of these measures, Mr Khan admitted that this was likely to be the case.
"In reality, the ten large bus operators in London and TfL will be losing out, they will suffer financial losses," he explained.
"However, as a result of government guidelines and decreases public transport use in the pandemic, they are already losing a lot of money.
"In comparison to this time last year, there are 95 per cent less people using the tube. That is why we will be negotiating with the government for TfL to receive the financial support that private companies are being offered."
Under the new guidelines, passengers will not need to touch in after boarding and are asked not to approach the driver.
Existing measures to protect drivers and passengers include signage directing people away from seats near drivers, improved protective screens around the cab and regular announcements reminding those on board of the need to maintain social distancing.
TfL said it was also considering creating a "completely sealed partition" between drivers and passengers.
TfL trialled the boarding change on 140 buses across nine routes, with the operator saying it was "confident" that the low number of people travelling meant people could keep a safe distance between each other.
Earlier, a trade union official called for drivers to be issued with personal protective equipment.
Earlier, the London Mayor announced that he is advising everyone to cover their faces on public transport.
It comes after he was criticised for saying that this would not be a necessary measure on London transport.
In a series of tweets, he wrote: "Governments and mayors around the world are advising people to wear non-medical face coverings in public to help stop the spread of #COVID19.
"In circumstances where it's not possible to keep our social distance, I think it’s time we did the same.
"These would NOT be medical masks - which must be reserved for health and care workers who desperately need them - but scarves or reusable face coverings to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. It is time to act."
TfL's director of bus operations Claire Mann said: "Bus drivers are pivotal in ensuring critical workers like NHS staff and grocery workers can perform the vital roles they do during this national emergency.
"Their efforts are nothing short of heroic, and it is essential that we leave no stone unturned when looking to protect them."