Graham Vidler: ‘Government messaging needs to change’

Confederation of Passenger Transport CEO Graham Vidler urges ‘avoid public transport’ message to change for coach and bus to reach its ‘full role in the economic and social recovery of the country’

Over the last few weeks, bus operators have been preparing to ramp up their services – and the welcome result has been more buses on our roads in the last few days. The drive to get more buses back on the network recognises the crucial role they play in helping get people to work and to the shops, more of which will open next week.

Unfortunately, this important role is not being matched by positive government messaging encouraging people to use the bus if they need to.

Instead, we have stark messaging on avoiding public transport. This has serious long-term implications for ingraining the habit of travelling by car, meaning fewer bus journeys and losses in the benefits of better air quality and reduced congestion we have seen over the last weeks. It also risks stigmatising the 25% of the population who do not have access to a car, and therefore rely on public transport for the majority of their journeys.

These were points I made directly to the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser Andrew Gilligan last week when I met him to discuss the future of the industry.

While I don’t expect the government message to change overnight, he was certainly left in no doubt that without a change of approach they are preventing coaches and buses from playing their full role in the economic and social recovery of the country.

It is important that we recognise that this is not just an issue for buses. It is also fundamental to ensuring we have a prosperous coach sector.

Coach travel operators have been devastated by the pandemic, with mass cancellations and bookings falling to zero. The disappointing lack of support to date from governments across the UK for the sector has also added to the problems operators face.

The gradual return of schools could mean operators being asked to provide home-to-school transport, if not now, potentially in September. However, the avoid message from government risks many parents deciding that home-to-school transport, and coach travel more widely, is unsafe. It is vital that, as schools return, the message that coach travel is ready, safe and available for those who use it is heard loud and clear. Having been cheerleader in chief for the avoid message, we need the government to lead on this messaging to encourage people back into using coach and bus.

CPT will be working hard on this issue, as well as a range of others over the coming weeks, to ensure that you have all the tools you need to provide the services that the country needs as we move towards a new normal.

As always, please get in touch if CPT can help.