Buses in Wales – Bus Users Cymru guest blog
More than five weeks into this period of lockdown bus passenger numbers are down and special timetables are in operation. One large Welsh operator recently told us it is running 30 per cent of normal services but seeing only 5 per cent of normal revenue. Whilst Welsh Government has announced ongoing funding to replace concessionary fares and Bus Services Support Grant revenue, operators are taking a hit on the loss of commercial revenue.
Bus operators across Wales have adapted very quickly to the crisis, reinforcing the Government’s message to the public to stay at home and only travel when absolutely necessary. Along with Traveline Cymru, they have been using social media to promote changes to service frequencies and key workers are being encouraged to get in touch with operators where services don’t meet their needs. This vital feedback has led to a number of service changes, from running earlier and later services to fit with shift patterns, to changing routes to include hotels being used by NHS staff self-isolating from their families.
There are many users who don’t have access to social media, of course, and who rely on information provided at the bus stop. And while there are areas where information has been updated, it tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
In order to protect staff and passengers on their journeys, operators have introduced a number of initiatives including enhanced cleansing regimes for buses, driver screens and notices for passengers to practise social distancing when using the bus.
Bus Users Cymru continues to receive complaints from passengers and has seen a spike in passengers requesting refunds for journeys not being made. We are asking operators to consider refunding passengers for one-off journeys, and pausing longer-term season tickets by extending the end date so passengers can use their tickets at some point in the future.
When it comes to paying for their journeys, operators are asking passengers to use smartphone apps and contactless cards in preference to cash. Not everyone has a mobile phone, however, and people on low incomes in particular may not have access to a contactless card. We hope operators recognise this and either accept cash where it is the only means of payment, or allow the passenger to travel free.
Without question, the Coronavirus crisis will have a long-term impact on bus services in Wales and across the rest of the UK. Social distancing looks set to continue and will services only be able to fill 50 per cent of the seating capacity of a bus? The effect this will have on the level and frequency of services, not to mention the financial impact, only time will tell.
One notable result of the situation at present, however, is the outpouring of support for drivers and bus workers. The main focus of this gratitude is rightly with the NHS staff fighting this dreadful virus, but the number of gestures from passengers of all ages to the bus workers who are keeping services running is heartwarming. From gifts of drawings and poems to Easter eggs and cakes, the role of the bus worker is being appreciated as never before. And long may it continue!