As London’s schoolchildren return to the classroom from Monday 8 March, Transport for London (TfL) will reintroduce measures similar to those introduced during the autumn term. These include providing hundreds of extra buses, reintroducing the system of signed ‘School Service’ buses and encouraging walking and cycling. The measures will help ensure children can travel to school safely, sustainably and on time – with free travel for children and young people still in place.
TfL’s extensive efforts to reduce the risk of infection on the network continue, including the enhanced cleaning regime deployed at the start of the pandemic and the enforcement of face coverings.
Those who are able to walk, cycle or scoot to school are again encouraged to do so, with TfL continuing to work with the boroughs to create the extra space needed to make walking and cycling safer and easier. More than 300 School Streets have been created across London, which involve timed restrictions on motorised traffic outside schools to make walking and cycling safer and easier, as well as enabling social distancing. Nearly 100km of new or upgraded cycle lanes are also either complete or under construction across London so far, which are enabling people of all ages and abilities to feel more confident when making essential journeys by bike.
TfL is currently running as close to a full service as possible on the bus network. A full service will run on schoolday-only routes (generally numbered 600-699) – and the changes to the bus network seen in the autumn term will return to meet the increased demand expected from next week. Additional buses will be reintroduced on some of the busiest low-frequency bus routes, including existing school services, with priority given to routes on which schoolchildren travel longer distances. Adjustments may be made to services that ran last year in line with demand, so customers are advised to check before they travel on Journey Planner or the TfL Go app.
Up to half of buses on certain busier, higher-frequency routes will be designated ‘School Services’ at school travel times between 07:30 and 09:00 in the morning and 14:30 and 16:30 in the afternoon. These services, which will be clearly signed, will be prioritised for school travel and alternate with normal services.
Buses signed as School Services will continue to operate at full seated capacity, consistent with Government guidance, while the current capacity limits on buses will remain on normal services. Pupils will need to wait for School Services, and other customers will need to wait for regular services, with clear signage on the front window of the School Services differentiating the two. This will allow children to travel to school safely. If a bus is full, whether it is a School Service or regular service, clear signage will indicate this and all customers, including schoolchildren, will need to wait for the next suitable service.
TfL is engaging with more than 3,000 schools, London’s boroughs and the Government to prepare for the increased demand on the transport network, where capacity remains reduced because of social distancing. Schools are being asked to stagger start and end times and encourage walking and cycling. The latest advice and resources for schools to encourage safe and sustainable school travel can be found on TfL’s dedicated webpage.
Other customers will be encouraged to plan their journeys in advance and travel outside school travel hours where they can. Customers will also need to allow more time for their journeys if they do need to travel by bus during the school travel times as they may have to wait longer for a bus.
A pan-London campaign will run across radio, outdoor advertising and digital advertising to advise schoolchildren to walk or cycle to school and remind them of the School Services.
TfL’s ongoing trial of 24-hour bus lanes on its own roads will continue to help maximise capacity and support social distancing on buses, keep journey times consistent throughout the day and reduce crowding at bus stops.
Cycle routes and more cycle parking are being created to facilitate cycling, while TfL’s online Cycle Skills course is a useful resource for new and existing cyclists, including children.
The measures will be kept in place at least until the end of the current term and will be kept under review. Plans for the summer term will be confirmed closer to the time.
Claire Mann, TfL’s Director of Bus Operations, said: “I know how hard the last few months have been for families and especially home learners and home teachers, so I’m sure the return of children to schools will be welcomed by many.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure the network continues to be as safe as possible, but we also need Londoners to repeat the actions they took during the autumn term and play their part. Walking and cycling, planning for the quiet times, wearing face coverings and ensuring windows are left open on buses will help everyone who needs to travel to do so safely.
“Our extensive cleaning regime, which involves hospital-strength disinfectant, continues to make buses and Tubes cleaner than ever. We are also seeing really high levels of compliance with face coverings across the network as a whole and want to remind customers to not let that slip – it is still a requirement for all customers aged 11 and over unless an exemption applies. Everyone should be well aware of this requirement by now and so we will be taking action against those who aren’t wearing face coverings but should be.”
Parents or carers and pupils aged 11 and over must continue to wear a face covering on public transport, covering both the mouth and nose and for the duration of the journey, unless an exemption applies. The overwhelming majority is complying, at around 90 per cent during peak times, and officers will be reminding children without a face covering of the requirement and in some cases will issue a warning letter to parents and guardians.
Customers are asked to keep bus windows open, even during cold weather, to ensure a fresh supply of air, and to continue to wash or sanitise their hands before and after travel.
The measures support London’s safe and sustainable recovery from the pandemic and will help avoid a car-led recovery that would increase pollution and see one public health crisis replaced with another.
TfL’s enhanced cleaning regime continues to make the network safer than ever, using hospital-grade cleaning substances that kill viruses and bacteria on contact and provide ongoing disinfection. 1,100 hand sanitiser points have also been distributed across the network and one way and queuing systems have been put in place where necessary.
Since October, Imperial College London has run monthly tests for all virus variants on the transport network. Sampling has taken place at a variety of stations and on buses and trains – with the locations changing for each round – and swabs taken from heavily touched areas and air tested for any airborne traces. None of the tests so far have found any traces of the virus.