Thoughts on public transport in the “new normal”

Thoughts on public transport in the “new normal”

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Rebecca Mahon

Anyone who has ever lived or worked in London will know what I mean when I talk about “packed” commuter trains. Have you ever seen a train guard having to push the train doors closed, because the mechanical shutting mechanism on the door is under too much strain due to people bulging against it? I have, in fact it was a relatively regular occurrence in Wandsworth Town station, whilst standing 10-deep in line on the platform wating for the next South West train to come along. When you finally did make it onto the train, your back-pack between your ankles to free up space for another passenger to squeeze in behind you, your face being tickled by the girl in front’s pony-tail, you never even had to hold on to anything. It was impossible to fall over, no matter how much the train lurched. I remember on one occasion, a spider (pretty large for UK standards) decided to descend from the luggage racks above us, and despite the terror in the eyes of my fellow passengers, there was nothing we could do as it took refuge on someone’s back…

Are “packed” commuter trains, and buses for that matter, a thing of the past? TfL have confirmed that whilst services are running at 85% on buses and 75-80% on the tube, with social distancing measures in place, they will only be able to carry about 13-15% of the usual capacity of passengers. Baroness Vere, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport has confirmed that social distancing measures on public transport are likely to remain in place for the next 6-12 months. I can’t help but think of all those people who would be standing with me at Wandsworth Town station – how on earth are they all going to get to work?

Continuing to facilitate working from home (for those that can) for now seems to be the obvious answer. However, for those that do have to be physically present in their workplaces, employers are going to have to think really carefully about how that is going to work. We are hearing reports of many businesses doing things like offering access to changing facilities, showers, bike storage and so on to encourage locally based employees to walk, run and cycle to work. Some companies are setting up their own versions of public transport such as shuttle buses, allowing them to be confident about social distancing and the safety of their employees. Liftshare, a company that creates car sharing platforms for businesses, reported last week that 92% of people live near to a colleague who they could car-share with rather than take public transport – if they live too far away to walk, cycle etc. Heathrow Airport has 2,302 colleagues who share lifts to work on a regular basis and they are incentivised to do so by having designated parking bays. These are all things that businesses may need to start to look into, particularly in more rural areas, in the “new normal”. Even in and around Cardiff (not exactly rural) it’s not unusual for there to only be one train every half an hour, so getting everyone to work at the same time is going to be impossible with social distancing in place. Staggering start and finish times will potentially help, but won’t  necessarily resolve the problem, particularly if everyone starts doing it.

The main piece of advice that we can give you at this stage is to plan, plan, plan. Send out surveys to your employees to understand how they normally get to work and whether there are any alternatives. If you are implementing a gradual return to work, you may wish to return those who don’t rely on public transport to get on site first. You may wish to consider implementing a car sharing scheme so that you can get more employees on site without increasing the number of cars in the car park (or your carbon footprint). If making use of public transport to get your employees back in work is unavoidable, talk to them about how to be safe. Ensure that they have access to gloves, masks and hand sanitiser and consider altering their start and finish times to avoid busier times. Having a clear strategy in mind will help to ensure a smooth restart and will hopefully give confidence to your employees that you are thinking through how best to keep them safe.

For further support and guidance on returning employees to work, contact Claire, Mark or Rebecca in the employment team.

Claire Knowles – Partner

Mark Alaszewski – Associate

Rebecca Mahon – Solicitor

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