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Shapps confirms franchise contracts could be eased for virus emergency

TRANSPORT secretary Grant Shapps has signalled that he is ready to consider easing franchise contracts, to help operators hit by sharply falling demand.

Big London stations are much quieter than usual, reflecting a fall in passenger numbers which is said to be not far short of a fifth, although this has yet to be confirmed by the industry.

Mr Shapps told the BBC that he is holding meetings with franchise managers this week to see how services could be kept running for essential users.

He said there was no point in running ‘ghost trains’, but people still needed to travel, while it was also important to keep the franchises themselves going.

He added: ‘We’re working with them all to see what it is we’d need to do to sustain them. People still need to be able to travel to an extent, and some of that is actually about how many trains are put on a line at any one time and the rest of it.

‘It’s quite clearly an exceptional international moment in time. We need to be flexible as a country to react to that, and I’ll be driven by, amongst other things, the demand.

‘There’s no point running ghost trains any more than in running ghost planes, but those are conversations which are ongoing.’

Transport for London has already warned that falling passenger numbers on its networks could lead to a revenue shortfall of £500 million. TfL has been reported to be asking for government support.

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