Ever since the scale of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic became known, Boris Johnson and his government have wasted no opportunity to stress the need to avoid public transport unless absolutely necessary.
Fortunately, Mr Johnson’s message has not been taken up by governments in Scotland and Wales. Indeed, Welsh Transport Minister Ken Skates has specifically said that there was no need to avoid public transport.
Nevertheless, the grossly unhelpful diatribe about public transport that continues to be peddled by Westminster has already created issues that will outlive any restrictions on movement in England, Scotland and Wales.
Problem one: Despite most children in England not being at school or college, and a sizeable chunk of the workforce either subject to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, working at home or shielding, traffic levels in some areas are rapidly increasing. As they do, so will air pollution. Bus passenger figures remain well down on the norm, though.
Problem two: The message that public transport use is potentially dangerous to one’s health is something that will take years to undo. As a result, the government dime will continue to be required for some time if many bus services are not to wither and die.
While protecting future public transport usage figures has understandably not been a priority during the pandemic, a better understanding of the sector should have been forthcoming from the government. Instead, it has almost been treated as something that is expendable.
The debacle continued with the publication of guidance on the mandatory use of face coverings by public transport users in England.
Those documents were issued on Sunday evening, five hours and 40 minutes before the rule came into force. While the Confederation of Passenger Transport was able to offer some advice to its members three days before that, it came with the caveat of possible change once the guidance was published.
The road to full recovery will be long for public transport. It will require significantly more subsidy than has already been provided. As a self-confessed ‘buses man’, it is time for Boris to quietly ditch the message that the mode should be avoided at all costs and return to an approach that promotes it.