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Transport for London has announced a dramatic fall in passenger numbers, as people start to avoid public transport as a response to coronavirus.
People are staying away from both the tube and buses, as the number of people self-isolating (or simply avoiding travel wherever possible) has sharply increased in the past week.
In the week beginning 2 March — as awareness of Covid-19 began to grow — there was a modest reduction in ridership of the tube: around 2% compared to the same time last year. This jumped radically for the week beginning 9 March, where tube ridership fell by 19% and buses by 10% compared to the same times last year.
It's noteworthy the differing levels of ridership dips when comparing the tube to the bus. As the Guardian point out the tube is more expensive than buses and connects people from higher socio-economic groups from the suburbs to the centre of London. In short these tend to be people who are more likely to be able to work from home.
However, another reason for the sharper decrease in users on the tube, might be the perception that people come into closer contact on the Underground, especially at rush hour, compared to on buses.
Those falls in passenger numbers are only likely to increase as the number of visitors avoiding London, and the number of residents self-isolating continues to grow. That spells a serious loss of income for TfL, but one it hopes to manage.
TfL has been through some tough times financially in recent years, yet has slashed its deficit from £1.5 billion to £200 million. It has a reserve of funds for dramatic falls in passenger of numbers that it may need to use in the current situation, but also warns it may need support from the government to keep the capital's public transport network functioning.
Simon Kilonback, TfL's Chief Finance Officer said:
Our best forecast, based on government scenarios, is that the financial impact of the coronavirus could be up to £500m.
We continue to follow and communicate Public Health England advice, including that there is no specific risk on public transport.
TfL recently announced a stepped-up cleaning regime on London public transport.