The letter send by Jim McMahon, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, on 2 February 2021.
I am sure you will join me in paying tribute to transport, distribution and logistics staff across the country. Without them our country would grind to a halt and we could not hope to beat Covid-19. As with all our frontline workers, they are the very best of us.
Across the country people are shocked and saddened by increasing reports of transport and other key workers losing their lives to Covid-19. Our thoughts are with the families of these brave professionals. Our drivers are keeping the country going in extremely difficult circumstances, and they will be central to our economic recovery.
You’ll know that this week the ONS published figures showing the death rate from Covid-19 by occupation. It revealed that taxi drivers (101 deaths per 100,000 males) and bus and coach drives (83 deaths per 100,000 males) had some of the highest death rates of any occupation.
There is a mix of overlapping, and at times contradictory, scientific advice and guidance in circulation for essential workers. The job of Government should surely be to cut through that noise and give those that need it clear, unified and constant guidance and direction. The fact that different operators have diverging views on the best approach is confusing matters further.
It’s clear that ahead of our frontline workers receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, we need a national operator’s forum with Government, transport operators and unions with driver and other workers’ representatives. This would help in understanding the frontline issues, varying approaches, and practical solutions to getting the Covid case rate and death rate down.
There is a need for clearer guidance for all transport operators including those in the taxi industry that consider themselves a platform rather than employer. This should include, but not be limited to:
Whether all public facing transport workers whether in the public or private sector should be issued with gloves, masks, and other PPE items as standard, what specification this PPE should be and, if there isn’t sufficient PPE, whether buses should still run;
Whether physical barriers (ie. screens) should be in place for all taxis or other modes of transport to separate the driver from the passengers and if the government will provide specification on the most effective installation;
How frequently vehicles should be cleaned and to what standard this cleaning should be, including routine deep cleaning;
The need for drivers to have additional breaks, where social distancing can be applied, built into shifts;
How social distancing can be effectively managed on within all modes of public transport, and how queuing and boarding can be managed to provide a safe environment for passengers and workers. This is especially important given the Prime Minister has said he is considering easing some restrictions as early as next month.
Finally, to reiterate, my party is clear, as we have been since the beginning of this crisis, that we will work with the Government in any way possible to support efforts to tackle the virus. To that end, we are raising these issues in the spirit of constructive engagement.