South West – Melanie Watson (Bus Policy Adviser and Co-Chair of Bristol Transport Board and Nina Howe (Senior Stakeholder Manager)
Great Western Railway (GWR) has scaled back services and now prioritised a number of key routes. This includes hourly London services to Bristol Temple Meads and Plymouth where customers are able to connect for Cornwall. There will also be significant changes to regional and branch line services. Transport Focus is reviewing the new timetable and talking to GWR to ensure it is fit for purpose.
Information for essential travel has never been more important. GWR are working hard to enter all the changes into online and digital timetables. Individual journeys can be checked on GWR’s website. A big issue for GWR passengers has been refunds, particularly for Advance purchase and season ticket. We spoke to GWR’s Managing Director about this last week.
On the buses, First West of England moved quickly to respond to falling demand across the West of England Combined Authority region. The majority of services now operate on Saturday timetables. Work is taking place to update passenger information and customers are being directed to the website rather than the app in the short term. Real-time information signs across the region are not working (due to all the changes with the timetables) but passengers are directed to the Travelwest website.
In Devon and Cornwall, operators such as Stagecoach South West, Plymouth City Bus and First Kerno have moved to operate a weekend service timetable due to falling passenger numbers but aim to provide services to match the needs of key workers. Operators have worked closely with organisations employing key worker groups in devising new these timetables. There have been positive comments on twitter from passengers who still need to use buses to get to essential work. Operators have also recognised the need to provide key links for essential shops in some communities.
South East (Catherine Folca - Stakeholder manager)
Transport providers in the south east, like the rest of the country, have amended their services to reflect the need for key workers to travel against a backdrop of heavily reduced demand. South Western Railway is providing a reduced frequency while maintaining the majority of the first and last trains of the day. The operator has stepped up its cleaning regime on trains and at stations. The majority of ticket offices are closed, with those at major stations remaining open but only accepting card transactions. On board catering has been suspended and the lost property office has been closed but staff at stations and guards on trains continue to be available to assist passengers.
In Oxford bus companies such as Oxford Bus and Stagecoach are prioritising services for key workers. Planned fare increases have been suspended and increased ticketing flexibility has been introduced during the operation of a special timetable. Across the region other bus operators are accepting concessionary passes for older and disabled passengers 24 hours a day to enable them to make use of special slots at supermarkets. They continue to accept cash payments but ask passengers to use card payment wherever possible.
The Isle of Wight ferry companies are running a reduced service, prioritising freight and essential travel. Passengers are asked to remain in their vehicles where possible. Some ferry companies now require proof of the need to travel before allowing passengers to board.
London (Tim Bellenger - London TravelWatch Policy and Investigation Director)
London is changing day by day. It’s quieter; you can hear birdsong and children playing in their back gardens (if they are lucky to have one) while empty buses and trains go by. A bit of a surreal, but necessary change. London is used to being at the front end of change but is finally catching up with reality of the current situation.
At some point it will revive, but the question will be do we want to go back, or we will embrace the change we have been forced to enjoy?
West Midlands (Linda McCord – Senior Stakeholder Manager and Chair of West Midlands Bus Alliance)
Linda joined a weekly call with the West Midlands Transport Tactical Co-ordination group to look at how the sector is responding for essential workers during this period. The group is working to keep the network moving, communicate information to users and support essential workers and the vulnerable.
Linda also chaired a call with the Bus Alliance members last week. Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is asking bus operators for information about the availability of their vehicles and drivers in order to assess if they could be deployed to support Local Authorities in the region. Discussions are taking place about how this would work in practice. As across the country, bus operators voiced concerns that economic assistance to the bus industry is not forthcoming quickly enough. TfWM is working closely with local operators to find solutions.
The West Midlands Rail Executive is looking to push forward a collaborative approach to the planning of emergency timetables. This follows criticism that the recently introduced timetables are not providing the journeys that some key workers need.
On the roads, the A38(M) is a barometer for how some in the region are responding to the travel restrictions. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 23 March, traffic levels fell the following day to about 1/7th of what would be usually expected. This is expected to reduce even further.
Greater Manchester (David Sidebottom – Director)
David joined transport the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s transport industry call to discuss plans to delay coronavirus and the implications for transport provision across the city region. Timetables and service patterns are under constant review across bus, rail and the Metrolink. Passenger numbers across these modes are down by around 90-95 per cent. Timetables have largely moved to providing a service for key workers across the city that rely on local public transport. Planning and rescheduling that normally takes months to prepare and implement is being done within days. The fact this is being done at such a difficult time is testament to the professionalism and dedication of the teams delivering such widescale changes.
It was good to hear that TransPennine Express has retained vital stops at stations to reflect the needs of many key workers. Likewise bus operators are talking with local authorities about how their bus fleets could be re-purposed to support other needs.
Transport Focus will continue to closely monitor the impact of these dramatic but necessary changes. This will include how the widescale changes are communicated, through to possible changes on buses regarding the handling of cash by drivers which has attracted local media coverage in recent days.