Welsh bus funding during recovery is ‘crucial’

Funding to support the Welsh bus industry as passenger numbers recover from the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is “crucial”, says NAT Group.

Adam Keen, Managing Director of the Cardiff-based operator, adds that running with much-reduced capacity to comply with social distancing recommendations will be difficult. He says that while NAT has been able to provide an essential service level throughout the pandemic, the most difficult period for the industry is still to come.

“Support for the recovery will be crucial,” explains Mr Keen. “Ourselves and other operators are in regular discussions with Welsh Government officials to try to secure stimulus funding to support us through this very difficult period.”

The Welsh Government has already provided a three-month hardship fund for bus operators. It was announced on 29 March.

On Wednesday 13 May, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates claimed that demand management would be introduced on public transport in Wales to permit social distancing.

He also suggested that usage may be prioritised for key workers and those people without access to a car. With a 2m social distancing requirement, it is likely that capacity would be limited to just 15%.

Mr Skates says that “understanding” will be required if those measures are to be introduced when movement restrictions in Wales start to be lifted. He did not reveal whether funding will be provided to Welsh bus operators to cover lost income or increased costs.

NAT Group has seen a slight increase in patronage that began around two weeks ago. It is currently carrying around 9% of normal volumes and has limited the number of seats that can be occupied on each vehicle.

“Social distancing will mean much lower passenger numbers [than normal]. A lightly loaded bus is generally loss making. Running more buses to cope with additional passenger numbers will be very difficult financially,” adds Mr Keen.

During his address on Wednesday, Mr Skates criticised the message delivered on Sunday 10 May by Prime Minister Boris Johnson advising that public transport should be avoided “at all costs”.

The Welsh Government does not endorse that policy. Mr Skates says that it would “store up social justice problems” and stunt progress towards decarbonisation and modal shift objectives.