Graham Vidler: ‘Let’s all do everything we can to reassure people it’s safe to travel on public transport’

Confederation of Passenger Transport Chief Executive Graham Vidler continues discussions with government on support for the coach sector, examines the implications on the one metre rule, and continues the call for messaging around public transport to change

The biggest news of the last couple of weeks has been the introduction of ‘one metre plus’ social distancing.

While much of the focus has been on the re-opening of pubs, restaurants and other leisure sites, it does have important implications for our sector too.

While clearly it isn’t the silver bullet that solves all the problems, it does represent an opportunity for our industry to begin the process of recovery after the most challenging months in living memory.

For example, we have been working to help coach and bus operators understand what the implications of one metre plus could be for capacity.

It is a fine, risk-based judgement to make, but we think the extensive mitigations which members have put in place mean it makes it possible to move to a rule of thumb of ‘one passenger per pair of seats’, significantly increasing capacity over two metre social distancing.

The re-opening of tourism and leisure activities also means that the coach travel sector can begin to think about providing days out and tours for those customers who are eager for some leisure time.

The lack of engagement from the Department for Transport (DfT) on our proposal for support for the sector has been extremely disappointing but I’m sitting down with some CPT coaching members and Baroness Vere next week to discuss how we can ensure the industry is able to get up and running again.

I’m not expecting her to suddenly agree to a sector specific support deal, especially with the government now firmly focused on recovery, but there are ways the sector and government can work together to ensure the industry can play its important role in the economic recovery.

One area where this is the case is school transport. While September and the reopening of schools (although sooner in Scotland) might seem a long way off, the government is already planning what transport, across coaches and buses, will be needed to get children to school safely. I’ve been pushing DfT to work hand-in-hand with us to manage the September return to schools where we clearly have a crucial role to play. We’ll be involving several CPT members in working through the scenarios and making sure we help give the nation’s children the best possible return to school.

And maybe it’s also time for the government to turn around that ‘avoid public transport’ message we’ve heard so much of in the past few months. In fact, with increasing capacity on our vehicles, increasing demand from our customers and the spectre of rising congestion and air pollution, it surely is time to switch to a more positive message.

Let’s all do everything we can to reassure people it’s safe to travel on public transport and encourage more of them to do so.