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Coronavirus London: Rush-hour Tubes are busy again as TfL tells firms to stagger start times

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Transport officials have urged major employers in East London including Amazon, Sainsbury’s and Wickes along with construction firms to stagger start times for workers in a bid to reduce overcrowding on the Underground.

Concern is mounting over a lack of social distancing on morning Jubilee line services, particularly around Canning Town and West Ham, as key workers continue to go into work during England’s third national lockdown.

Transport for London has urged large employers in the area – also including Tate and Lyle, City Airport, Wickes and Royal Docks – to stagger shifts to enable those who have to travel to work to do so in the quieter times.

Officials have also sent advice to business groups, construction companies and the supply chain through Build UK, and are meeting with trade unions amid growing concerns about the safety of staff and customers.

Many lower paid workers touch in their Oyster card on the Underground or Overground before 6.30am on weekdays to avoid paying peak fares – which run from 6.30am to 9.30am. The evening peak time is 4pm to 7pm.

And some builders have been left angry by construction sites changing shift times, meaning they now have to pay more to travel at peak times and won’t get home until late in the evening – causing problems with childcare. 

Commuters wait for a London Overground train at Canada Water station in East London this morning

Commuters wait for a London Overground train at Canada Water station in East London this morning

Passengers sit and stand on a Jubilee line train in East London this morning as key workers continue to travel in to work

Passengers sit and stand on a Jubilee line train in East London this morning as key workers continue to travel in to work

Passengers wait for the doors to close on board on a Jubilee line train at Canada Water Underground Station this morning

Passengers wait for the doors to close on board on a Jubilee line train at Canada Water Underground Station this morning

Among them was Jefe Cortez, who tweeted: ‘TfL, can you explain to me why my site has told me I can’t start work until 9.30am to comply with your new guidelines that say construction workers aren’t allowed on the trains during certain times in the morning?

‘F***ing disgraceful. How am I supposed to help my wife look after my children in the evenings if I’m not getting home until 8.30pm every night?’

Another worker said: ‘Today started well. Now I’m [angry] over my working hours being changed cos of Covid. All the construction industry are changing start times. So now instead of travelling into work off peak. I now have to travel at peak times. I give up.’

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Meanwhile congestion levels in London fell slightly this morning, but were still the fourth highest out of the past ten days as Britons continue to make journeys in cars, vans and lorries into the capital.

Traffic appeared to be heavy on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London this morning, with TomTom congestion data at 27 per cent at 7am, and 28 per cent at 8am.

The congestion level represents the extra travel time for drivers on average compared to baseline uncongested conditions – so a 28 per cent level means a 30-minute trip will take about nine minutes more than with no traffic.

Over the past fortnight, congestion in the capital was higher yesterday, and on Thursday and Tuesday of last week.

Jubilee line trains in East London were busy yet again today with photographs taken during rush hour this morning showing large numbers of commuters boarding at Stratford and Canada Water. 

Some builders have been left angry by construction sites changing shift times, meaning they now have to pay more to travel

Some builders have been left angry by construction sites changing shift times, meaning they now have to pay more to travel

It comes after shocking video footage taken at West Ham station yesterday showed commuters piling onto the Jubilee line, with concerns mounting over passengers being unable to socially distance at pinch points. 

West Ham and Canning Town are the busiest stations on the TfL network early in the mornings, but overall there was 18 per cent of normal demand on the Tube up until 10am yesterday – the same level seen last Monday. 

Nick Dent, London Underground’s director of line operations, told MailOnline: ‘We are doing everything we can to help ensure those who need to travel for legally permitted reasons are able to do so safely and maintain social distancing, including targeted communications to encourage people to travel at quiet times.

‘West Ham and Canning Town are the busiest stations on our network early in the mornings, and we are working with Newham Council to look at how working patterns in the borough could be changed to help ease any crowding during busy times. 

‘We have also urgently contacted large employers in the area including Amazon, Sainsbury’s and Royal Docks to urge them to stagger shifts and operating hours to enable those who have to travel to work to do so in the quieter times.

‘In addition, we have sent advice to business groups, and to construction companies and the supply chain through Build UK. We are regularly meeting with the trade unions to work together and respond to their concerns around this issue.’

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British Transport Police officers are at stations to ensure passengers are wearing face masks, and commuters are being urged to travel at the quietest times – between 8.15am and 4pm and after 5.30pm on weekdays.

Travel volumes on the network are higher than they were last spring, during the first national lockdown, and TfL launched a campaign last Monday to encourage customers to use the network at quiet times. 

Commuters on board a Jubilee Line train in East London as they travel to work on the Underground this morning

Commuters on board a Jubilee Line train in East London as they travel to work on the Underground this morning

Commuters sit on a Jubilee Line train in East London this morning as England's third national lockdown continues

Commuters sit on a Jubilee Line train in East London this morning as England’s third national lockdown continues

Signage, announcements and one-way systems are being used in stations to help passengers maintain social distancing, and customers are urged to check before they travel for any delays or cancellations to services.

TfL added that ridership has been falling week on week during the current lockdown regulations, and it has spoken with Newham Council about further changes to change working patterns and help cut down on crowding.

Union bosses have already called for construction sites in Central London to stagger start times for workers, amid fears they could be putting themselves at risk by commuting on overcrowded tube trains. 

Aslef, Britain’s main trade union for train drivers, also threatened to shut train stations ‘unless these pinch points are dealt with’ to ease congestion on the underground network as more people return to work.

Canning Town and West Ham have been a focal point for congestion, with both operating as interchanges for the Docklands Light Railway, and Canning Town being a terminus for many bus routes across the wider area.

Unions have raised concerns about overcrowding at the stations amid growing calls from Unite for construction sites in the capital to stagger start times or the congestion charge to be suspended for their workers. 

Heavy traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London during rush hour this morning

Heavy traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London during rush hour this morning

Vans, lorries and cars queue on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London this morning

Vans, lorries and cars queue on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London this morning

Traffic moves slowly on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London this morning

Traffic moves slowly on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London this morning

But questions remain over how staggered start times for workers would work – especially when sites are bound by strict rules set by local authorities over the hours they are allowed to operate.

Councils normally impose limits on noisy works that would be audible to neighbours of Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturdays from 8am to 1pm, with none allowed on Sundays and bank holidays.

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Forty chief executives of London’s biggest contractors met with Government officials in an emergency summit last Friday to discuss the problem, with ministers saying they are doing their upmost to keep workers safe.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain told MailOnline: ‘While the construction industry remains open as sanctioned by the government, workers will have to travel to the sites they work on.

‘In Central London, where many sites are located, public transport at present is the only viable way to get to work. Sites in Central London need to introduce staggered start times.

‘Other options that could be introduced are the suspension of the congestion charge for workers on London construction sites and allocated free parking spaces for construction workers. 

Commuters travel towards Canary Wharf, which is pictured in the background, in South East London this morning

Commuters travel towards Canary Wharf, which is pictured in the background, in South East London this morning

Heavy traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London this morning

Heavy traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road in South East London this morning

Heavy traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road towards Canary Wharf in South East London today

Heavy traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach road towards Canary Wharf in South East London today

‘Unite is willing to work with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Transport for London, construction industry employers and other stakeholders to explore these possible options in the continuing battle to reduce Covid-19 infection rates.’

And Finn Brennan, Aslef’s district organiser for the London Underground, told BBC London: ‘I don’t think anyone gets on the Jubilee line at 7am in the morning for the laughs.

‘The problem is there are people who have no other choice besides going to work, they don’t have the option of working from home, they don’t have the option of furlough, and there are some locations where people are coming onto the Underground all at the same time in the morning, when for the rest of the day the system’s actually really quiet.

‘The problem is, unless these pinch points are dealt with, then we are going to have to see services withdrawn and stations closed, because people are travelling in a way that is not safe for them, and is also not safe for the staff who have to deal with them and would have to deal with any incidents.’  

On construction sites, a Government spokesman said: ‘The closure of construction sites is not being considered. 

‘As the Business Secretary has made clear, the construction sector and its supply chain are able to operate during this national lockdown by implementing our comprehensive COVID-secure guidance to keep site workers safe.’ 

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