A former TfL board member has accused the organisation of failing to protect staff, following the deaths of 43 transport workers.
Michael Liebreich called Transport for London “institutionally unsafe” and blasted its contracted bus companies for failing to provide PPE.
In mid-May, TfL said that 32 of the 43 staff, whose deaths have been linked to the virus, were bus “bus workers”.
Mr Liebreich criticised the transport body in an open letter to Professor Sir Michael Marmot of University College London, who TfL has hired to carry out an investigation into the deaths.
His letter reads: “During my time on the board, I became increasingly concerned that TfL Surface Transport runs an ‘institutionally unsafe’ system: contracting out services in a way which puts extreme pressure on operators to deliver services on time or lose money, but which places safety a distant second priority.”
The Mayor of London’s office called the accusations “entirely untrue” and said safety has been an “absolute priority”.
A spokesperson said: “TfL have delivered a range of measures… an enhanced anti-viral cleaning regime across the network, applying a protective film to the Perspex screen of bus driver cabs to seal off holes, and preventing passengers sitting next to bus drivers. All frontline staff have also been offered simple face masks.”
Mr Liebreich was on TfL’s board between 2012 and 2018, a time spanning both Boris Johnson’s and Sadiq Khan’s periods in office. He is a Conservative supporter, and it was reported in 2014 that he had ambitions of becoming London Mayor.
His letter to Professor Marmot says: “Should you find that many drivers became infected at work (which I think is almost a given), I would expect you to investigate why they were working in such manifestly unsafe conditions for so long.
“For months PHE’s (Public Health England’s) advice was that workers who could not socially distance from potential carriers… should be issued with PPE. Why were bus drivers and other public transport workers not issued PPE by their employers?”
Mr Liebreich then questioned whether TfL had undertaken checks of bus depots “to ensure bus companies were policing social distancing”.
He wrote: “Did they undertake spot checks of toilet facilities to ensure they really were cleaned, and that soap and hand sanitiser were freely available? Did they ensure that enhanced cleaning of vehicles and depots was actually carried out? Did they issue instructions that cabs must be properly cleaned between each driver’s shift?”
Aside from the number of deaths among bus drivers that have been linked to COVID-19, Mr Liebreich said tiredness has been a major factor behind bus crashes.
“In 2019 research undertaken by Loughborough University… showed that 36% of bus drivers had a close call due to fatigue in the previous 12 months, 17% had actually fallen asleep at least once while driving,” he said.
The Mayor’s spokesperson added: “Last year TfL published its world-first driver fatigue report which includes a variety of tough measures to tackle the issue, including rigorous fatigue risk management systems for all new contracts.”
Mr Liebreich now runs a clean energy and transportation consultancy, Liebreich Associates, and works for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.