COVID-19: Labour demands ‘comprehensive’ Christmas travel plan to help people avoid ‘chaos’ | Politics News

The government is being urged to suspend peak rail fares and introduce mass testing for transport staff, to help the country avoid travel “chaos” in the run up to Christmas.

Labour is demanding that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps present a “comprehensive travel plan” to the House of Commons next week that looks at the lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions between 23 December and 27 December.

A temporary easing of restrictions has been agreed by the devolved administrations over Christmas, that will allow up to three households to mix in a single bubble.

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Virus ‘doesn’t know it’s Christmas’, says PM

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy was appointed as a Christmas travel tsar in the week, and will look at what impact the easing of the rules will have on the air, rail and road networks during the five days, and scrutinise their preparedness.

Labour says more than two million people used the rail network to travel over Christmas and New Year in previous years, while millions more took car journeys.

To minimise the risk of overcrowding in trains, the party has called on the government to temporarily scrap peak fares during the lockdown-eased period.

It is also encouraging the government to implement mass COVID-19 testing for transport workers such as train staff, bus drivers and highway employees.

As well as that, Labour has also argued that planned maintenance works on the East Coast Mainline, which runs between London and Edinburgh, via cities such as York and Newcastle, should be delayed until the 27 December, so people can return home safely.

London North Eastern Railway (LNER) which runs the line said that planned engineering works will make alternative routes “very busy”.

Labour shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “Families will be looking forward to travelling to see one another this Christmas after a really tough year.

“However, we cannot afford to be complacent. The virus still poses a very serious risk to people’s health.

“That’s why ministers need to come to Parliament on Monday with a comprehensive travel plan to ensure families travelling across the country are kept safe and chaos on our roads and rail network is avoided.”

He added: “This is too important for the government to ignore or leave until to the last minute. This is about protecting lives and livelihoods.”

The Department for Transport will publish measures next week that will ease travel disruption over the Christmas period, which will use analysis of demand for advance rail tickets and public surveys.

Mr Shapps has urged the public to make plans “very carefully” and “where possible, book well in advance“.

He said: “As some advance tickets go on sale and people begin to plan their journeys, we are closely assessing demand on the network and have already taken actions to minimise potential disruption.

“We are currently developing a plan focused on tackling disruption – including running longer trains and relaxing rules to allow more types of coaches to run.”

Advance train tickets, which are usually cheaper, went on sale on Friday – eight weeks later than usual, after there were delays in finalising timetables.

Capacity on trains has been restricted to allow for social distancing, with many operators forcing travellers to have pre-booked tickets.

On the roads, the RAC said its breakdown team was planning for its service to be busy over “the five days of Christmas”.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon will be a guest on Sophy Ridge on Sunday – watch live on Sky News from 8.30am.

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