Public transport in London – challenges facing older Londoners

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Older Londoners use of public transport understandably has dropped during the pandemic. National data shows that in August only 2 per cent of over 70s using the underground or train, 8 per cent travelled on a bus, 6 percent cycled, 87 per cent travelled in a car and 38 per cent by foot. But of note surveys also show that over 60-year olds per cent of older people want to keep public transport open, significantly higher than other age groups – as they know they are going to be reliant on it in the future. Despite many older people being cautious and not venturing out, clearly others  particularly carers, people with medical appointments or key older workers needing to travel into work have to make those essential journeys on the bus or tube and can’t walk or cycle. But moving forward if older people are to play their part in London’s recovery with shopping, visiting attractions, volunteering and more generally civic engagement then safe public transport is necessary to ensure confidence.

TfL is doing its best to show its cleaning regime, social distancing, and safety but that much needed confidence has clearly not returned in London compared with other parts of the country, and not just for older people 

There’s still not clarity about the risks around catching Covid on public transport  and clearly much of the risk depends on how busy buses and tubes are going to be and the rules for safe social distancing being in place TfL say that busy stations and routes need to be avoided and have produced an app which is designed to help public transport users find these routes. But as two thirds of older people don’t own smart phones then this isn’t going to help much.

Older people who have travelled on public transport are reporting big concerns about the enforcement of rules requiring masks to be worn on tubes and buses. Other concerns are about busy buses and queuing at bus stops and proper social distancing in place.  With school’s returning in September there are big changes ahead on London buses though not very well communicated, to give priority to school children on buses. Extra services are being put on some routes at peak times, but also “school only services” will run on one in every two buses on high frequency routes at morning and afternoon peak times – and these will only be for school children. Whilst many may be supportive of this to help education return, there will be concerns about bigger queues at bus stops for older people and risks to social distancing. For those who are disabled this plus the this compounds the hazards of commuting. London Vision held a seminar recently on confidence for and what is being done for disabled people.

There’s clearly a big push from Government to get school’s back and workers back into offices from September onwards but this shouldn’t be to the detriment of older people. We are still waiting for TfL to end its suspension of free travel for older people before 9am, though financial pressures facing TfL from the government may not produce an early return.  PAiL is lobbying TfL and the GLA to ensure older people’s viewpoints are fully taken into account and transport can best serve older Londoners.

Tim Whitaker

Public transport in London – challenges facing older Londoners

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