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Temporary traffic changes: a mixed bag for operators

12 June 2020

Some local authorities are engaging better with bus operators than others  about temporary roadspace reallocation measures to promote active travel during social distancing. 

The Government and the devolved administrations are encouraging and funding councils across Britain to install temporary measures such as cycle lanes and road closures to promote active travel as Covid-19 movement restrictions are gradually eased.   

FirstBus strategy director John Dowie told the meeting that council engagement with bus operators varied widely.

“I think it’s proving what we already know that it’s so variable in terms of local areas, and the strength of the partnership.

“I was part of a conversation in one major English city where it could not have been more collaborative, looking at how not just walking, cycling but also bus could benefit and thinking ahead about locking-in [benefits] beyond Covid. So a brilliant two-way discussion.”

But he cited another city, which he did not name, where bus routes had been severed by traffic management changes, without any engagement between the council and operators. 

“The irony is that the pavements that are now unusable for bus passengers are actually quite socially distanced. And our bus passengers are being sent to very pokey pavements.

“I could have guessed which authority would do what beforehand,” said Dowie. In the city where there had been no engagement, there was “a history of not engaging with the operator, and taking very short-term actions without really a strategy being present”. 

Jonathan Bray, director of the Urban Transport Group, said: “Personally and as an organisation, I think it's great that we are seeing and encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

“But we need to ensure that isn’t done in a way that jeopardises the recovery of the bus and we don’t end up with, you know, active travel, kind of circling the corpse of the bus. 

“We’re doing our best to use our channels to do that, we’ll continue to seek to do that, to try and square these circles about road space reallocation.”

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