Capacity increase as lockdown restrictions ease

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The capacity increase has been enabled by the Government’s Covid-19 roadmap, which has now entered its penultimate stage

Operators across England have been able to increase capacity aboard their buses from Monday 17 May, following revised guidance from the Department for Transport which permits all forward-facing seats to be used. Although this will bring some welcome relief to operators who are seeing journeys reach Covid-capacity more regularly as restrictions lift, the CPT stressed that this isn’t a ‘big bang return to bus’ but about managing capacity on vehicles in the face of increasing passenger demand. Following the risk-based study undertaken across the industry in 2020 that concluded that one seat in every seat pair was an acceptable and appropriate balance of safety and capacity, in light of falling infections and increased vaccinations as well as measures such as face coverings, it now believes that moving to every forward facing seat where required is acceptable. Advice to passengers is still to plan their journey in advance and travel off peak if they can, and outwith peak times there is still expected to be space for greater distancing. A CPT spokesperson said: “Operators are doing everything they can to keep the country moving and ensure people can travel with confidence. This includes running additional services where demand is high and providing up to date information on busy buses via apps and websites.

“As restrictions ease and more people begin to move around places public transport will be busier than we have seen during the pandemic. On busy routes at busy times this means it may not always be possible to socially distance and some passengers may need to sit next to each other. Where possible we are encouraging passengers to plan their journey in advance and travel off peak if they can.” The CPT said it was important to solve peak-time problems to prevent long-term damage to patronage as a result of a switch by some customers to less sustainable modes, and that the latest thinking takes into account the roll out of vaccinations as well as ongoing safety precautions such as increased ventilation and cleaning and the continued requirement to wear face masks on board. Rear-facing seats and seats within two metres of the driver must still remain empty and passengers are still not allowed to stand. As operators prepared for the roll-out of the new arrangements, Brighton & Hove and Metrobus Managing Director Martin Harris welcomed the new arrangements: “It’s an encouraging sign and I am pleased it will mean more people can get on buses,” he said. “As the safety rules gradually relax and more social and work activities return toward normal, public transport will be increasingly able to play its part in a more sustainable recovery. I am delighted to welcome more people back on to our buses, which are clean, safe and ready to go.” Reading Buses CEO Robert Williams said: “We are running a full timetable and have plenty of capacity to get people to where they need to go. We will continue adding extra buses if we find any regular occasions where 1 metre social distancing can’t be maintained. “We have been awaiting the latest government announcement with interest as we expect the reopening of indoor entertainment will lead to another increase in customer numbers on our buses. “We can’t wait to welcome back people who may not have travelled with us in over a year. We can assure them we have been doing all we can to keep customers and employees safe and connected during the pandemic.” He added: “Travelling on the bus will probably be safer than when you arrive at your destination and are sat across a table from your friend inside a café, pub or restaurant without a face covering on.” Phil Southall, Managing Director of Oxford Bus Company, Thames Travel, Carousel Buses and City Sightseeing Oxford, said: “We are pleased to be able to welcome more of our customers back on board with the further easing of restrictions. “We have been busy during the pandemic working on multiple improvements to our services. These include adding 10 new vehicles to our fleet, launching new formal partnerships with Milton Park and Bicester Village and improving timetables. We are also looking forward to launching improved technology to help passengers plan their journeys and modern ticketing deals. Our vehicles are safe to travel on and we are looking forward to welcoming more people back.”