With the COVID-19 death toll for transport workers in London reaching 26, the majority of whom were bus drivers, Transport for London (TfL) has agreed to allow middle-door only boarding from 20 April.
The tragic deaths of London transport staff include 20 bus workers, four Tube and rail workers, one staff member in TfL's head office and one worker from a partner organisation.
With the government action plan and advice ruling out PPE for transport workers, London mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL have come under pressure from unions to step up protection for transport workers.
After the unions said staff should refuse to work if they felt conditions were not safe, TfL was forced onto the back foot.
It launched a trial of middle-door only boarding on buses and said the World Health Organisation and Public Health England advise that clinical PPE 'is not required in non-care settings and could be counterproductive'.
However, the mayor has asked TfL to look into the availability of PPE stock for transport workers 'in case the advice changes'.
Mr Khan has also asked the government to make wearing face masks compulsory while travelling on public transport in London.
He said: 'The evidence around the world is that this is effective. I'm lobbying our government and advisers to change their advice, and I want us to do that sooner rather than later.
'They are already reviewing this on the basis of our representation.'
Following the seven day trial on nine routes, TfL will now only allow bus passengers to board using the centre doors from Monday. During these temporary arrangements passengers will not be required to touch in - making bus transport effectively free of charge.
'Customers should not approach the card reader near the driver’s cab,' TfL said.
After observing passengers across the 140 buses involved in the trial, TfL said it confident that the low number of people currently using the network can keep a safe distance when entering and exiting through the same door.
The new boarding arrangements will be kept under review and will be adjusted as the Government reviews the travel restrictions currently in place across the country.
TfL has repeatedly reminded everyone that public transport is only for absolutely essential journeys. The number of people on buses has fallen by around 85%.
Pete Kavanagh, Unite London and eastern regional secretary, said: 'We have lost members of our bus family in recent days and we refuse to lose any more.
'Unite has been asking for central boarding as an essential safety measure during these times because bus workers are, understandably, fearful for their health. It is reassuring that the Mayor and TfL have listened and acted now to protect this workforce.
'We have 20,000 bus workers across the capital. They have lost colleagues and friends in recent weeks. They need to see all the support that they can muster from the mayor, the employers and TfL so that they can assure their loved ones that they are being kept safe at work.'
Mr Khan, said: 'I am extremely grateful to all our heroic transport workers for the fantastic job they do day in and day out keeping our city moving and helping key workers get to where they are needed most.'
TfL has also put up signage asking passengers not to sit in the seats near the driver’s cab, made improvements to the drivers' protective screen by adding a new protective film to cover holes, and provides regular announcements to reinforce the need to keep a safe space from others.
TfL said it is also exploring what more can be done to create a completely sealed partition between drivers and passengers that allows for both communication and ventilation.
A rigorous cleaning regime using anti-viral fluid in stations, depots, bus garages, trains and on buses, including the driver’s cab, has been put in place.