Passenger Transport – COVID 19

Dear Minister

Passenger Transport – COVID 19  

I am writing to you to raise our strong concerns about the new approach adopted by DfT in its negotiations with commercial bus operators in regard to its social distancing policy on bus services.

This represents a significant change in current arrangements. This change in interpretation has been introduced with no consultation with local authorities, communities and bus passengers. Essex County Council only found out about the proposal by chance via our operators.

In the Council’s view, the revised application of the guidance could seriously disadvantage individuals in our communities for whom buses are a lifeline service, particularly key workers, school children and those making essential journeys such as buying food and accessing healthcare and medication. We know that currently many of our journeys are made by those working in hospitals and these could be displaced if, for example, we see a significant number of shopworkers returning from 15 June.

While it may be possible for larger urban areas with high frequency services and large numbers of vehicles, to apply the guidance with limited effect on passengers, in our towns, villages and more rural settlements we fear that as passenger numbers increase there is a significant risk that passengers further down the routes will simply be left behind, potentially day after day as buses quickly fill.

This will leave passengers at subsequent stops entirely without access to key services, including their place of work, potentially indefinitely. Access would become a lottery dependent on where you live along a bus route with many people including hospital workers, key workers, school children and vulnerable people left stranded and in need of rescue either at the start of their journey or on their return. This is not an acceptable position.

We fully support the promotion of active travel, but for many people in Essex, cycling or walking to their destination will simply not be an option. To present it as an alternative to bus travel is just not credible.

I would therefore like to request that an urgent review of the current guidance to bus operators is undertaken to consider offering every passenger at a stop the opportunity to travel and liaising with operators to make sure the capacity and protective measures are in place to do so with minimum risk to passengers and staff. I would be grateful if you could confirm your willingness to do this given the urgency of the situation and particularly with the potential increase in non-key worker travel from 15 June.

I am circulating this letter to Essex MPs and colleagues in other local authorities many of whom I know have the same concerns.

Yours faithfully

Cllr Ray Gooding
Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, and Passenger Transport
Essex County Council

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