Now buses just pass us by say Falkirk key workers

The coronavirus crisis may not have had much impact on drivers – as we can see from ever more crowded roads – but it has caused major changes in the way public transport operates.

By James Trimble
Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 12:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 12:31 pm

Bus users have been the most adversely affected with a number of key workers getting in touch with The Falkirk Herald to say they have been late for their work because the bus they were going to get on simply drove past the stop without letting them on.

This is due to the new rules which state there can only be a certain 10 passengers on a bus at any one time and if it is full up and no one gets off to let you on then the bus will just drive on past a stop.

First Bus stated a 75-seat double decker could carry 18 passengers, with 10 allowed on single deckers at any one time.

Sign up to our daily The Falkirk Herald Today newsletter

Life on the buses has changed during the coronavirus crisis

Service operators say passengers need to be patient and be prepared to simply wait a little longer if a bus passes them by.

Andrew Jarvis, First Bus Scotland managing director said: “By only being able to carry a maximum of 25 per cent of passengers due to social distancing measures, we will very quickly run out of resource, capacity and money as we progress through the government’s plan to lift lockdown measures and more people and businesses return to work.

“We are ensuring passengers who need to travel by bus have the most up-to-date information on how they can play their part to keep the bus network safe for everyone.

“This includes keeping two metres apart where possible, wearing face coverings, sitting by the window, leaving rows clear in front and behind them when choosing a seat and being prepared to wait if a bus is showing as full as it approaches a stop.

“This information has been communicated across all of our external channels, alongside our industry-leading on-bus signage to guide passengers.”

First Bus is offering a new service to passengers who have an app on their smart phones, telling them not only when the next buses are due to arrive where they are waiting, but also to tell them how full the buses are.

With a sharp reduction in capacity to allow for social distancing, more people are likely to be turned away by drivers and the app is designed to help travellers plan ahead for services and times with fewer passengers already on board.

As for the future, First Bus is consulting with various organisations and the Scottish Government to see how things can be improved going forward.

Mr Jarvis said: “We have been working with Transport Scotland, alongside other transport operators, to inform and advise the Scottish Government on the current challenges the industry is facing as a result of Coronavirus.

“We are also driving a joint plan to provide a more comprehensive network and get more buses on our roads as demand increases. We anticipate the current network will just about have sufficient capacity to meet current demand as it stands today, but we need businesses and other organisations to work with us and introduce staggered work patterns to help manage the traditional peak travel times in the morning and evening.

“By operators, businesses and passengers working together we will be able to provide a bus network, for those who need it, which is safe and accessible for those who need to complete their essential journeys.

“We await further details from the transport secretary on how the Scottish Government intends to support operators as demand for services begins to increase further.”

MSP Michael Matheson, transport secretary, said: “In Parliament I outlined our Transport Transition Plan, which advises passengers about when and how to safely access public transport through good hand hygiene, respecting physical distancing, using face coverings and avoiding busier times.”

While bus travellers are adapting to new guidelines, rail users are also having to make some adjustments as ScotRail is urging its customers to play their part in keeping other rail users safe by covering their face while travelling.

The firm has issued the updated guidance for customers following the launch of the Scottish Government Transport Guidance plan, which confirms people travelling on public transport should wear a face covering.

As part of the effort to keep key workers moving, the train operator has now added a small number of daily services to the timetable.

The extra services will deliver more options for travel during peak times and continue to deliver for key workers. ScotRail said the small increase in services – from 43 per cent of a normal timetable to 47 per cent – will mean there is more capacity for key workers and essential travellers to increase the opportunities for physical distancing over the coming weeks.

New measures have also been introduced by the train operator in the last week with new rules for travel including do not travel if you feel unwell or have a temperature, travel away from the main commuting times – 7am, 9am, 4pm and 6.30pm – wherever possible, as trains will be busiest at these time, while earliest and latest trains serve key workers, like NHS and care home staff.

As well as urging people to wear face masks and where possible maintain physical distance, ScotRail is asking passengers to judge for themselves if they think it is safe to board a particular service.

The largest stations will have floor markings and other signs to outline a safe distance of two metres, while some station facilities such as waiting rooms will be closed, as ScotRail follows the successful model implemented by supermarkets and other businesses in recent weeks.

Platform markings and guidance at ticket vending machines will be supported by station announcements and messages on customer information screens, to help essential travellers during their journey.

Customers can expect an increase in the time it takes to buy a ticket at a station and board a train and there may be occasions over the coming months when boarding their normal train may not be possible in busier times.

Buying tickets in advance through the ScotRail app or website will reduce waiting time for customers.

David Simpson, ScotRail Operations Director, said: “We are asking our customers to play a very important role in keeping everyone safe by following the Scottish Government advice to cover their face while travelling.

“The message remains the same – people should only travel when it is essential to do so. We need everyone to take personal responsibility. If you think it’s not safe to board a train, don’t do it and wait for another service.

“Adding a small number of services will provide key workers and essential travellers with more opportunities to practice physical distancing. We urge people to help us by making safe and sensible decisions.”

Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s National Clinical Director, added: “Everyone across Scotland’s Railway is working incredibly hard to provide a service for those people who need to use the train in this difficult time, and we really appreciate everything they are doing.

“Train services are having to operate in a very different way just now, so we are asking people to only travel by train if it is essential, and to follow ScotRail’s five rules for travel.”These major changes to bus and train travel come at a time when the impact of COVID-19 on Scotland’s transport services is to be investigated by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

Views are now being sought on the impact on public transport as the easing the lockdown continues over the coming weeks and months.

Individuals, businesses and other stakeholders are being invited to highlight specific issues and questions they would wish to be considered by the committee.

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald, a member of the committee, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives immeasurably in a relatively short period of time.

“The economic effect of the emergency lockdown measures imposed to tackle the spread of the coronavirus has presented significant challenges for rural areas of my Falkirk East constituency, and businesses outside the main district centres..

“Significant adjustments will be required across our public transport services as the lockdown is eased in the coming weeks and months and the safety of the travelling public is hugely important.

“The Committee wants to hear about the experiences of individuals and businesses and whether they feel they have received the support they need to survive and recover from this crisis.

“We also want to learn about examples of good practice as we consider what lessons can be learned about the response to the pandemic and also how existing practices may need to change as we move forward.”

Responses should be sent, wherever possible, electronically to [email protected]