In recent days I’ve seen an increase in people wearing masks on public transport across London as more cases of the COVID-19 aka the corona virus emerge across the world. At first, the rare sight of people in masks brought on mocking from many. Will it become the norm?
The potential this virus has is of course vast and spans a wide bunch of areas but the sight of people in masks on public transport got me thinking about TfL and various rail franchises. TfL’s finances are in very poor shape as it is, and even a 10 per cent fall in tube users will hit hard.
Today we have seen companies based at Canary Wharf send all staff home. Firstly it was 300 staff at Chevron and now others in the same building.
Many rail franchises are in a precarious position to withstand any fall in passenger numbers. Some are already on the brink or lost powers to run services such as at Northern. South West Rail is in trouble after making a £137 million loss as are c2c with a £20 million shortfall. Add in a reduction in passengers – and it doesn’t have to be that large – and the franchise system is in deeper trouble.
Of course, amid a wider outbreak this pales into insignificance, but even if the UK does avoid widespread infection the mere hint that it could affect many may result in some wide ranging economic problems, both with fewer commuter trips alongside domestic leisure passengers and a fall in tourists. The impact in transport and a whole range of other areas could lead us into a very bumpy ride.