A pro-travel message from government to encourage people back on board will be essential as lockdown is eased
We all know coaches and buses are central to how the UK functions. They get people to work, take them on days out or to see family and friends and to local businesses.
The Prime Minister’s roadmap for exiting lockdown in England gives us a sense of how we might once again take up those roles in full. As we emerge from lockdown a vibrant bus network can ensure local high streets see a return of customers and help people get back to work or find new job opportunities, and a thriving coach industry will help to kickstart UK tourism and get 600,000 children back into school.
We have made it clear to the government that to ensure we maximise the benefits of coach and bus a pro-travel message from government to encourage people back on board will be essential alongside a properly funded recovery for bus and bespoke support to help coach operators get back up and running.
In addition, it will be vital that the social distancing review, which sits between us and phase four of the roadmap, doesn’t leave coach and bus passengers behind. The review must be led by the science, and needs to take into account that throughout the pandemic operators have worked hard to ensure passenger safety when travelling, and numerous studies have found no link between public transport use and the spread of COVID-19.
“long-term continued social distancing on coaches and buses, beyond what is happening elsewhere in society, will hinder the country’s economic and environmental recovery”
The review must also recognise that long-term continued social distancing on coaches and buses, beyond what is happening elsewhere in society, will hinder the country’s economic and environmental recovery. Coach operators will be unable to play their full role in the economic recovery if social distancing means they are not able to carry full coaches of passengers to tourist attractions, bringing them much-needed footfall that they will need post-COVID-19.
For bus, government is providing important funding to support the sector while passenger numbers are reduced due to lockdown and social distancing. But keeping social distancing in place longer than necessary increases the risk of a car-based recovery. With buses only able to run at 50% capacity we will see greater congestion on our roads as people turn to the car to make their journeys, which has knock-on impacts for poorer air quality and carbon emissions at a time when the UK is seeking to be a global leader on climate change. We will also see people struggling to return to work as the economy reopens and buses reach their socially distanced capacity.
Put simply, it’s vital that we avoid a situation where people can go to nightclubs but not sit next to each other on the night bus home.
I’m confident that the review will avoid this trap and show the government’s recognition of both the role coaches and buses can play in the country’s recovery and the extensive measures operators have taken to ensure the safety of passengers and staff.