London Gets Back to Business as Commuters Return, Flights Resume

After several false starts during the last eighteen months, London is showing signs of finally getting back to business.

Traffic levels and public transportation usage in the city climbed decisively this week as more people returned to work after the end of the school and summer holidays. London Underground marked its busiest morning since the pandemic began.

It’s a sign that normality is returning after several weeks where it looked like the return to the office had stalled. Back in July, the U.K. removed almost all coronavirus restrictions -- but that initial step toward normality was marred by a surge in cases of the Delta variant of the virus, and many people opted to wait until after the summer vacation to return to their desks. 

There’s still a long way to go. Offices are generally a little over half-full, and many people have embraced hybrid working, only venturing into the city two or three days a week. Variants of the virus could yet derail the return: the number of cases is still creeping up.

For now, though, the City of London feels markedly more alive than it did even two weeks ago: the streets are busier, and the pubs are thronged with office workers. Here are three charts showing how Londoners returned:

The Traffic is Back

London Gets Back to Business as Commuters Return, Flights Resume

The days of car-free roads in the city are long gone. Traffic congestion in London is increasing, and is now surpassing its pre-pandemic level -- especially in morning rush hour.

The congestion level in London reached 79% on Wednesday, much higher than the 67% average for Wednesday in 2019, according to TomTom. A spokesman for the satnav maker said the return to office and school is having an impact on traffic levels, but the question remains whether the trend will continue -- or if people will embrace hybrid working. 

The Tube Is Filling Up

London Gets Back to Business as Commuters Return, Flights Resume

The morning rush hour on the tube is back. On Sept. 6, the underground marked its busiest start to the day since the pandemic began.

That trend continued through the rest of the week, with the number of journeys climbing steadily to hit 2.2 million by Thursday, about 54% of pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re definitely seeing a return to work which is driving this,” Transport for London spokesman Sean Colfer said. 

The Planes Are Taking Off

London Gets Back to Business as Commuters Return, Flights Resume

London City airport, popular with business travelers because of its connections and proximity to the center of London, is also seeing signs of a recovery.

Flights to Zurich, Frankfurt and Rotterdam have resumed as business demand returns, Chief Operating Officer Alison FitzGerald said in an interview this week. The airport expects that overall passenger numbers will be up 30% this week on the previous seven days.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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