The UK Government has confirmed that Monday 19 July will be Freedom Day in England. Social distancing restrictions will go and we will no longer be required by law to wear a face covering, with regulations being replaced by guidance.
At the time of writing, the guidance that explains these decisions was yet to be published just six days before it replaces rules that have been in place for well over a year.
It is really disappointing that over the last few days ministers from the Prime Minister down have singled out public transport as an example of a setting where people should continue to wear a face covering.
This is unfair with coaches and buses sharing many of the characteristics of other enclosed public spaces but also having traits, such as good ventilation, that are advantageous to combatting the spread of COVID-19.
This is an issue where the government needs to make it clear what the science is saying. If it advises face coverings are still required, then they should be mandated in all enclosed public spaces, but if they are no longer required then there should be no guidance advising of their continued use.
Throughout the pandemic, coach and bus operators have put measures in place to ensure passenger safety, from enhanced cleaning to contactless ticketing, and a study carried out on London public transport found no traces of the virus on surfaces on board buses.
The long-term impact of the messaging we have seen to date, despite the evidence, risks the public thinking of public transport as being unsafe.
We need government to be encouraging people back on board public transport, not undermining the work operators are doing to encourage passengers to return. With mixed messaging and the singling out of public transport we risk increasing the number of cars on our roads, worsening air quality, and undermining the journey to net zero.
The nature of much coach travel, in particular coach tourism, is of course different to bus. It has been pleasing to hear that coach operators are planning to continue to build on their strong relationships
with customers to, in light of these announcements, co-ordinate the best travel arrangements for them, so that passengers can continue to travel with confidence.
It’s vital we ensure that this confused messaging from government doesn’t jeopardise the much-needed return of coach trips and tours this summer.
I know this is a frustrating and confusing time for operators.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport will continue to champion the services that you provide and work with you to help give you the tools you need to play a full role in the country’s recovery from the pandemic.