The government has been warned that rail services may have to be stopped to protect workers and passengers, following crowded scenes on some public transport routes on the first day of England’s new lockdown rules.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union, told Sky News that public transport workers were worried about the crowding and that services may need to be stopped “to keep people safe”.
Outlining his road map for the UK to emerge from lockdown on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people who cannot work from home – such as those in construction and manufacturing – should head back this week.
Mr Johnson encouraged people to avoid public transport to get to work, but many have no other option and so passengers have found it difficult to keep two metres apart.
Speaking to the Kay Burley@Breakfast programme, Mr Cash said: “We’ve been running train and bus services throughout this crisis and have been facing problems with much-reduced services.
“Our members have been very worried about how passengers are congregating on the trains and the buses and the impact that this is going to have.”
He said strike action may be necessary to “protect workers and passengers”, and that staff should “refuse to work” if they don’t feel safe.
“If that’s what needs to be to keep people safe, then we will stop trains,” he added.
With social distancing concerns in mind, the government has started promoting the use of face coverings in public, but not everybody has been adhering to the guidance.
One Tube driver told Sky News: “Worrying thing for me is that hardly anyone is wearing face masks or coverings.”
Some stations have placed social distancing reminders on their platforms, but the sheer number of people using some services have made keeping apart practically impossible.
One hospital worker in Blackpool described her commute as a “COVID party bus”.
Julia Kate Rayworth directed her anger towards Blackpool Transport on Twitter, saying: “Think you need to step [in] and either limit passengers or put more buses on.
“My 7am bus this morning is like a COVID party bus, downstairs is so packed, no distancing put in place, I work at the hospital and the past two days have never felt so unsafe.”
Many people also reported busy carriages on the London Underground, again due to reduced services dealing with increased demand from those going back to work.
However, Sky News correspondents out and about in the capital did report quieter scenes at some major stations, including London Waterloo and Shepherd’s Bush.
There has also been notably more traffic on Britain’s motorways this week and reports of an increase in bike use, suggesting plenty have been able to get to work without public transport.
Greater Manchester has recorded a 42% jump in bike journeys.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted there was “no perfect way to start easing the lockdown”, but said he hoped people would use common sense.
He told Kay Burley@Breakfast: “The truth of the matter is, you have to start somewhere.
“The lockdown message was very straightforward – it was just stay at home.
“Now as we start to unlock, of course there have to be decisions made. There is no perfect way of doing this, and we would ask people to use their common sense.”
England is alone among the UK nations in seeing more people head back to work this week, with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland taking a more cautious approach to easing lockdown.
Other changes introduced in England include the reopening of some golf courses, garden centres, and people being allowed to meet one other person from another household in the park.
Leaders in the other home nations believe it is too soon to make significant lockdown changes.