'Scared' Tube Driver Reveals What Work Conditions Are Like During The Coronavirus Pandemic
"I've seen groups of young lads travelling in gangs to wherever, standing on busy trains. We're seeing women dressed up to the nines going off to places to see friends, to a house party or whatever."
'Scared' London transport workers aren't being protected against coronavirus infection as they go about their daily work - and are still seeing thousands of people flout the rules around isolation and risk their own lives.
Drivers on their way to and from shifts are having to ride with customers on packed trains, risking potential infection. They also say they don't get as much information from those running the network as they would like.
A London Underground employee, who asked to remain nameless, told LADbible how some workers don't feel safe, aren't being provided with assurances that their trains are clean, and - in some cases - haven't got access to the correct protective equipment, all while they are putting their well-being on the line to ensure vital key workers can continue to do their jobs
So far, 21 Transport for London (TfL) staff have died from Covid-19, leading to social distancing measures to be put in place such as boarding buses through the middle doors and Perspex screens in front of drivers.
While tube train drivers don't have face-to-face contact with passengers, many other employees do - and no one on the underground network is completely safe from infection.
On top of that - and perhaps most galling of all - one driver claims there are still people travelling on the tube who are making unnecessary journeys to see friends, walk dogs and travel to places that aren't their homes.
The worker explained: "I've seen groups of young lads travelling in gangs to wherever, standing on busy trains. We're seeing women dressed up to the nines going off to places to see friends, to a house party or whatever.
"There are people taking their dogs on the tube to go for a walk. Some people are not taking it seriously.
"They think 'I'm not old, it's not gonna kill me'."
They continued: "There are announcements being made in about six different languages, and the BTP [British Transport Police] have been outside some of the stations stopping people and asking them where they are going, but there are still people on the system making unnecessary journeys.
"The people in the ticket halls don't have any protective equipment, they've just got screens and things telling people to stay two metres back, but nothing else.
"In Marks & Spencer, every employee out restocking was wearing a plastic visor. We don't have that.
"We've got gloves, and there are some masks, but not everyone has a mask. They're dust masks, not medical grade."
They also said people are cramming on to trains at peak times, due to a reduced service.
They continued: "Because of the reduced service, people are waiting 20 minutes for a train when they would have had to wait four before. It means that the tubes are busy, then for the rest of the day it is like ghost town.
"With the days getting longer, there is no need for all of the people to start at the same time. Especially if they're not frontline NHS workers."
The employee explained that while the rest of the country is being asked to maintain social distancing, this is nigh on impossible for those staffing London's transport system.
They said: "If you want to get back to the depot, you've got to either go in the cab or ride in with the public. That means that if you're a driver, you can either tell another driver 'you're not getting in the cab' and stick them in with the customers - [at peak times] about 85 people - or have them in with you."
As well as that, there is a lack of confidence in the cleanliness of the trains. While customer areas are being regularly deep-cleaned and sprayed with an extra anti-viral cleaner, there is some concern that driver areas are less effectively cleaned.
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The driver said: "We are told that they are wiped down and cleaned out every day, but I took an anti-bacterial wipe into the cab the other day, because I won't drive a train without wiping it down first, and it was filthy.
"I don't feel safe, and the communication has not been great. We're having to fight for every bit of information rather than being told about what is going on at the minute."
It's not all bad news, however. The driver praised the attitude to employees with underlying health conditions, vulnerable children, or those who are high risk - they've been allowed to stay away from work and given assurances that they'll be paid.
However, with regard to the safety of workers that remain, employers may still be falling short.
Despite it all, we're told there is an understanding among most of the drivers that their work is essential and important if London - and the rest of the UK - is to continue running and emerge from this crisis in a decent state.
They concluded: "I don't particularly want to go back in, but I will. I know that there are people working on the NHS who have it harder than we do."
Transport for London (TfL) told LADbible it was 'committed' to ensuring the safety of all drivers, and that they are cleaning the enclosed cabs in which all drivers work, as well as all trains and depots, with an anti-viral cleaning agent on a daily basis.
They also said that they are providing hand sanitiser and making 'every possible effort' to ensure social distancing.
They said: "We're committed to safety, of our staff, who are at the frontline of this pandemic, and our customers, who at the moment should only be critical workers.
"We're using a new enhanced, longer-lasting anti-viral fluid every day across the network to limit the spread of coronavirus, keep critical workers and our hardworking staff even safer.
"This is done on the Tube overnight, including the driver's cab and in depots.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our colleagues and customers.
"This is why we have significantly enhanced our already robust cleaning regime and are using new, longer-lasting anti-viral fluid in our stations, depots and trains, including the driver's cab to limit the spread of coronavirus."
It also added that PPE [personal protective equipment] is not currently recommended for use in non-care situations by the World Health Organisation, Public Health England or the Department for Transport.
TfL argued that there was some evidence that the risk of infection can be higher if PPE is used inappropriately, which is why it is not recommended for transport workers.
However, should that advice change, it would act on this 'as soon as possible'.
Their statement continued: "We're determined to run the very best service we can, but it is simply not possible to run a regular service with around a quarter of our staff absent. This is why it is absolutely vital that only key workers making essential journeys travel on our network.
"We've seen the number of people using the Tube fall by 95 percent, and we thank those who have followed the advice and ask them to keep staying at home.
"If you're a key worker and your journey is absolutely essential, the busiest times are 05.45-07.30 and 16.00-17.30. If possible, avoid travelling at these times"
In a message to the Londoners that still use the underground system, TfL said: "Our clear message to Londoners is simple - the transport network is only for critical workers who need to make absolutely essential journeys. Please, everyone else, stay at home, don't travel and save lives.
"The number of people using the Tube has reduced by 95 percent. That means we're seeing just 200,000 or so people using the Tube across the day rather than the usual 4 million.
"Despite this massive drop in passengers we're still doing all we can to further assist frontline staff and critical workers.
"To help people keep at least two metres between themselves and others when travelling we're playing regular announcements, displaying a vivid red social distancing poster and, at the busier stations, installing two metre floor markings on platforms.
"More than 20 million emails have also been sent to customers urging them not to travel.
"500 officers from the BTP have been deployed across the rail network nationally, including TfL stations who are patrolling stations, supporting transport staff and reminding the public of the urgent need to follow the government advice - that only key workers making absolutely essential journeys should be using the Tube and rail network."
Featured Image Credit: PA