Transport bosses are considering offering Londoners a free trip into the capital in an attempt to stimulate the economy.
The First Ride Free scheme is being considered by Transport for London (TfL) to let the public see that it is safe to enjoy the centre of the capital.
It is deemed the public travel equivalent to the Eat Out to Help Out initiative, rolled out nationwide during August.
Transport bosses are considering offering Londoners a free trip into the capital in an attempt to stimulate the economy
The Evening Standard said the scheme could offer free tickets for trains, buses and the Tube to people who have not gone into central London since the coronavirus pandemic.
Nervousness about using public transport is believed to be one of the main factors stopping people going to central London for work or leisure.
The transport network saw a huge drop in passenger numbers as members of the public were ordered to stay at home during the early stages of lockdown.
But the relaxation of rules has since seen some return to the office and travel into the city on public transport.
A TfL spokesperson said: ‘This is one of a number of options that are being considered to help encourage people back into central London in the coming months.
‘No final decisions have been made and any option would need to be delivered with Government support, and agreed with them as part of ongoing discussions about our finances.
‘More customers are now returning to public transport and we are seeing steady growth every day.
‘We are delivering a near-full Tube, bus and rail service and the network is cleaner than ever before.’
Paul Scully, minister for London, said: ‘I’m looking at all options to show people rather than just tell them that there is a warm and very safe welcome waiting for them when they come back to the centre of our great city.’
The scheme could offer free tickets for trains, buses and the Tube to people who have not gone into central London since the coronavirus pandemic
TfL said 630,000 passengers used the London Underground network on Friday from the start of service until 10am – 21.1% higher than during the same period last week.
But this was still 69.2% lower than the same period last year.
There were 800,000 bus journeys – up 29.6% on last week, but down 50.8% on 2019.
Eat Out to Help Out was heralded as a success by Chancellor Rishi Sunak after Britons ate more than 100 million meals last month as part of the discount, with claims costing more than £500 million.
Ghost Town Britain: Soulless streets, empty stations and abandoned offices… how Britons are IGNORING Boris’s back to work drive (but are happy to Eat Out to Help Out in the evenings)
By Mark Duell
Office buildings, streets and train stations across Britain were soulless and empty today as Britons continued to ignore Boris Johnson’s drive to get them back in the office following the coronavirus lockdown.
Hardly any pedestrians were to be seen in city centres during rush hour today, although traffic jams started to intensify in London today, with 820 jams across 335 miles in the capital as the school run continued to return.
TomTom data showed congestion in the capital was at 47 per cent by 8am today – a rise from 41 per cent at the same time yesterday and up from 26 per cent last week, although still well below the 2019 average of 65 per cent.
Commuters at London Waterloo this morning which appears to be mostly empty despite it being Britain’s busiest station
But the number of people on the London Underground is still 70 per cent down on this time last year, and buses in the capital are carrying half their usual numbers as people continue to shun public transport.
TfL said 650,000 passengers used the Tube network today from the start of service until 10am, which was 17.2 per cent higher than the same period last week, but still 70.6 per cent lower than the period last year.
There were 760,000 bus journeys made, which was was up 22.2 per cent on last week, but 54.3 per cent down on 2019.
A small number of commuters can be seen at London Waterloo station this morning as people continue to work from home
Traffic has increased in part thanks to the school run returning this week, although a public information campaign urging people to get back to work following the Covid-19 lockdown has had its first air date pushed back.
Serving up more chaos for London? Sadiq Khan enjoys day out with NHS and TfL staff at Wimbledon to thank them for helping over Covid pandemic
Sadiq Khan today said it was ‘really offensive’ to suggest people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic are not as productive as those in an office, and called on the Government to ‘get a grip’ of the crisis.
The Mayor of London made the comments while with a group of 80 key workers invited to play tennis at Wimbledon as part of efforts to thank them for their work during the height of the pandemic.
Photographs and videos showed the 49-year-old mayor hitting forehands and backhands on a grass court and posing for the camera in a celebratory manner while playing with the group this morning.
It comes as he faces intense criticism for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis – including major concerns over his anti-car strategy, with motorists calling for traffic restrictions imposed amid the pandemic to be scrapped.
He has also been slammed for reducing Underground services, increasing the congestion charge and presiding over perceived structural flaws within Transport for London that saw it given a £1.6billion Government bailout.
Speaking at the All England Lawn Tennis Club this morning, Mr Khan criticised recent suggestions that employees should stop working from home and go back to their offices to be productive.
Mr Khan said: ‘Those Londoners who have been working from home have been working. I think it’s really offensive to suggest those working from home haven’t been working, they’ve somehow been lazy – it’s not the case.
‘They’ve been following the advice, which is to avoid the virus spreading, work from home where it’s possible to do so, avoid public transport, particularly during the rush hour.’
Downing Street has denied the existence of a Government ‘back to work’ campaign but said employers are to be reminded how to make workplaces Covid-safe in a bid to increase office numbers.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics have suggested an increase in people travelling to work in the last two months, with fewer working exclusively from home.
The series of adverts encouraging people to return to offices was originally due to begin tomorrow, but it will not now start until next week at the earliest. The UK campaign is yet to have been given a slogan because Downing Street officials are still divided on how strong the encouragement should be.
But there was more positive news as the decline in UK retail footfall eased for the third consecutive month in August as shopping areas saw visitors ‘enticed’ by the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, according to Springboard.
The move suggests the Cabinet Office wanted more civil servants back to their desks before urging the rest of the country to return, reported the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Johnson is said to want Parliament to be ‘back to normal’ by the end of 2020, urging MPs to lead from the front on the return to workplaces.
Mr Johnson spoke to Conservative backbenchers of the importance of returning to workplaces as the UK seeks to strike a balance between public and economic health.
Downing Street fears huge job losses in town and city centre shops and cafes if workers do not return to their pre-lockdown commuter patterns.
But there are allegedly divisions in Government over whether the time is right, with the Covid-19 rate still growing in parts of the UK, to get employees back into work.
Yesterday, the Bank of England told MPs the Government’s Covid-safe guidelines for employers meant it was unlikely offices could get back up to full capacity.
This is due to the need for staff to be kept apart, with workplace advice including introducing one-way systems and staggered shift times.
Employers are also advised to limit the number of colleagues that staff members are exposed to in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Alex Brazier, the bank’s executive director for risk, told the Commons Treasury Committee: ‘Because of those constraints I don’t think we can expect to see a sudden and sharp return of lots of people to the very dense office environments that we were used to.
‘We should expect a more phased return depending on the public health outcomes that we’ll see over the coming weeks and months.’
Meanwhile high street chains have issued a united cry for help, warning that working from home has triggered an ‘economic emergency’.
In a joint letter to the Prime Minister, bosses said the failure to get staff back to the office posed an ‘existential’ threat to many businesses.
The letter, seen by the Mail, was signed by more than 80 chief executives, including the heads of Greene King, Pizza Express, Caffe Nero and Marriott Hotels.
It was organised by the chief executive of UK Hospitality, which represents 700 businesses and 3million workers.
Their efforts were supported by the British Retail Consortium, which represents 5,000 businesses. The signatories employ close to half a million people.
Their letter, sent to Boris Johnson earlier this week, said: ‘Before Covid, half a million workers came to central London every day but many businesses have no immediate plans for staff to return to offices.
A near-empty platform at Canary Wharf Underground station in London this morning
A person walks past Canary Wharf Underground station in East London this morning
‘This has existential risks for businesses in hospitality and its supply chain, as well as retail, leisure and entertainment, which combined employ around 20 per cent of Londoners.
‘Action to build public trust to levels that will trigger a return of safe travel into central London has become a social and economic emergency… residents and workers need to be persuaded that public transport is safe and their workplaces are safe.’
The letter also warned of the devastating effects of a collapse in tourism. It called for a blizzard of promotions and campaigns to promote the message that Britain is ‘open for business, safe and welcoming’.
Passengers wear face masks as they travel on the Jubilee Line in London in rush hour today
A small number of people at Reuters Plaza at Canary Wharf in East London this morning
Official data shows that 730,000 jobs have already been lost since the coronavirus crisis hit Britain in March. Some forecasts suggest unemployment could soar to as much as 3.5million by Christmas as the furlough scheme comes to an end.
The Prime Minister claimed earlier this week that ‘large numbers’ are returning to offices after schools began to reopen on Tuesday.
But pictures from train and Tube stations appeared to suggest otherwise. Businesses in the capital expect just one in seven firms to bring the majority of staff back to the office by the end of September.
Footfall in the financial centres of Canary Wharf and the City of London is down by more than 60 per cent compared to February, according to Wireless Social. Rail passenger numbers remain at less than a third of pre-lockdown levels, despite an increase in the number of services offered to commuters.
A small number of commuters walk past a South Western Railway service at London Waterloo station this morning