UK cities are awakening as lockdown is eased

Saturday saw a surge in walking and driving in the UK after the government eased lockdown restrictions.

The new rules – combined with warm spring weather – saw movement rates rise to 60% of pre-Covid-19 levels.

That compares to near 30% towards the end of March.

Numbers have been edging up since then – with the Bank Holiday weekend on May 8-10 showing an increase in walking in particular, ahead of the lockdown restrictions being partially lifted. 

Since Wednesday, people have been allowed unlimited exercise and can drive to other destinations in England such as beaches or parks.

Data from Apple Maps shows easing the restrictions had a clear and immediate effect.

The chart below shows how many requests for directions were made in the UK each day up to May 16. Data for May 11-12 is not available.

Public transport activity has registered only a slight increase and is now at around 20% of pre-coronavirus levels.

UK drivers made 25% more requests for driving directions from Wednesday to Saturday last week compared to the week before, and 70% more than the same days of the week the lockdown started.

Despite the easing of the lockdown, the UK government recommends people should continue working from home and avoiding public transport whenever possible.

–Nicu Calcea

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.