Coronavirus refunds and service cuts – don’t forget the passengers!

19 March 2020

There may be fewer people travelling because of the coronavirus, but buses, coaches, trains and trams are still playing a key role in keeping the country going. Not least in making sure those working in the NHS, supermarkets and other frontline services can still get to work. There are lots of vital jobs that cannot be done from home. Thank you to all the hard-working staff in the transport sector itself. And it’s good to see Highways England talking about maintaining its services at all times – food needs to get through to the supermarkets.

Transport Focus is working on two main issues on behalf of transport users.

First, the need for the transport industry to do the right thing by passengers when it comes to refunds if they no longer need to travel. Understandably, train ticket terms and conditions don’t envisage something like this. With Advance tickets, finding a way for passengers to get their money back, or at least have an open-ended credit, is a priority. Changing a ticket for another date when the same ‘avoid non-essential travel’ guidance/restriction is likely to be in place isn’t the answer.

And some people may no longer need to make the trip at all.  South Western Railway’s website sums up the problem for an annual season ticket holder who may not need to travel for three months: ‘We do not offer a Pause & Resume offering on Season Tickets’. No, but that could be precisely what passengers need in this situation. And the principle of getting your money back if you are no longer travelling applies to buses and trams, too.

Second, making sure that passenger impacts are minimised as timetables are scaled back. There is no point in running services that nobody is using, but it’s crucial that in matching the service to demand (and the number of staff likely to be fit to run it) companies don’t go too far. Lower frequencies and shorter trains may be OK on some routes – but think about having enough space for passengers to keep apart. It’s also important to maintain current first and last services, whether buses, coaches, trains or trams. Key sector workers in front line services may still need to get to and from work at the usual time, even if others are working from home. In short, make sure the revised timetables meet the needs of those who must still travel. We have drawn up some principles in this area which we are sharing with the Department for Transport, transport operators and other bodies for consideration. Let me know if you have any comments on our principles document using the comment box below.

We’ll be updating our refund information summary later today

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