Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, our region’s public transport operators have been running at a much-reduced frequency, offering vital services for our key-workers and other essential journeys.
I’m very grateful for the continued dedication of our fantastic public transport workers, and I’m sure everybody will want to join me in thanking them again. As we begin to ease out of lockdown to a ‘new normal’, it’s important to reiterate that the government’s advice is for people to avoid using public transport where possible. However, I know that for many residents who are anxious to return to work, there will be no other choice. I’ve been working closely with our councils, transport operators and regional businesses to ensure that the transport network can get moving again as safely as possible.
To protect people’s health and enable effective social distancing, our buses will carry just 25% of the usual number of passengers; trains will be down to 10%. I would therefore urge all residents to seek alternatives if they can, consider cycling or walking and to allow extra time for journeys. I’ve been contacting businesses and employers to encourage them to support the regional effort through continued working from home where possible or staggering start and finishing times to help ease demand at peak travel times. I know that not all businesses are able to adopt such flexible working practices, but if everybody does what they can, there will be a larger cumulative effect across the West of England.
Despite the challenges around public transport, I’m absolutely determined to get our region moving as sustainably as possible. To do that, we need effective alternatives to the car. We have over £100m planned for investment in public transport schemes – involving buses, and rail, through our MetroWest programme. This work is as important as ever, as is work on our regional mass transit system which the team at the Combined Authority is pressing on with.
I’m also looking to accelerate my plans to invest in walking and cycling infrastructure across the West of England. I’ve successfully lobbied the Government for additional funding to support walking and cycling as part of the national response to Covid-19 and the Combined Authority will be using this funding to make it easier to walk and cycle around the region. As soon as this money is received from the Department for Transport, I’ll be working closely with our councils to get to task. I’m keen that we use the money to invest in the walking and cycling infrastructure which will have the greatest possible impact and ensure as many people possible as possible can switch to walking and cycling.
As with all aspects of our lives, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing particular challenges for our ambitions to support public transport. However, by working together and investing in alternatives such as walking and cycling, I’m confident that we can lay the foundations for our region’s safe, sustainable recovery and renewal.