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Bus and coach operators need £1bn emergency aid, says CPT


23 March 2020

The Confederation of Passenger Transport has called for £1bn of Government emergency support for bus and coach operators over the next three months because of COVID-19.

The CPT said the official advice for people to work from home and avoid social interaction was likely to cost bus operators £50m a week in revenue. Patronage on scheduled bus and coach services was “set to fall 75 per cent”. 

“As further measures are introduced to help protect the over-70s, concessionary travel is also likely to drop to near zero,” it said.

The CPT said bus operations needed to continue because many people still had essential journeys to make. This included workers in the health service, emergency services, shop workers and schools.  

The Government should provide bus operators with the ability to temporarily remove, reduce or alter services with immediate effect, it said.

Said the CPT: “The industry would keep customers and local authorities up to date on its plans but running ghost buses to universities where studies are taking place remotely or empty workplaces is a pointless exercise.” 

A statutory notice period requires operators to register service changes 70 days in advance in England and 56 days in Wales.  

The Traffic Commissioner can waive notice periods and allow short notices in certain circumstances such as “in order to meet an urgent and exceptional public passenger transport demand or change in circumstances”. 

Dave Harrison, Oxfordshire County Council’s senior public transport officer, told LTT: “Some form of clarification from the Traffic Commissioner would be welcome. No one will want to give 70 days notice to change. We will support short notice applications where necessary.”

The CPT issued a further statement after this week’s decision by the UK Government and devolved administrations to close schools.

“Home-to-school transport provides local coach operators across the country with £4.5m of revenue daily which is now under threat,” it said. “The Government needs to commit now to ensuring that local authorities continue to pay coach operators, which are predominantly small family businesses, as if these services were still running, to help maintain short term cash flow.”  

The coach sector has witnessed a collapse in revenues. Operators were losing £500,000 a week because of cancelled football fixtures, said the CPT, and April to June was traditionally the peak season for coach demand.  

Chief executive Graham Vidler said the bus and coach industry might be able to play a vital additional role in combatting the virus: “It may be possible for the industry to provide special services to community hubs such as shops and potentially make deliveries to those who need them. We would be happy to work with the Government to discuss whether this is feasible and how we can make this happen.”

Operators cut services

Transport operators have announced cuts to service levels in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Reading Buses said most services would, from Monday 23 March, run to their Saturday timetables during the week, with Sundays remaining normal.  

Stephen Rhodes, customer director at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), said: “We have already seen a reduction in the number of people using public transport. With that number expected to fall further, a reduction in frequency of bus, train and tram services is expected in the coming days.”

Nexus this week removed its peak-hour additional services on the Tyne and Wear Metro. In all, about 50 of the 450 daily services have been cut.

Nottingham City Transport said it would “continue running our normal advertised timetables and service levels for the immediate future”. 

“If driver and employee availability is significantly affected by the outbreak or there is a restriction placed on public transport operators by the Government, then service levels will be reviewed.”

Go-Ahead subsidiaries the Oxford Bus Company and Thames Travel are to temporarily reduce services on several routes.  Many services will move to an ‘enhanced Saturday or Sunday’-type service. The operators said they were in “constructive talks with union representatives regarding pay, leave and sick pay”.

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