West of England transport and business leaders have put out a united call for people to comply with Government regulations on wearing a face covering when travelling by bus to help get the region moving again safely, as the lockdown eases and many industry sectors open up for business again.
The move comes as bus operator First West of England has announced an increase in the capacity on its buses to almost 50%, following the Government’s reduction of social distancing restrictions.
During the coronavirus lockdown, capacity on-board a double decker bus was reduced to around 20 seats, to support social distancing. The bus operator is now rolling out a new seating layout that will allow for approximately 35 passengers on double-decker buses and 20 on smaller single-deck buses, in response to new advice from the Government.
As the lifting of lockdown increases and more people start to move around the region, West of England Mayor Tim Bowles and regional employer body Business West have joined First West of England in urging passengers to wear face coverings onboard buses.
Regional Mayor Tim Bowles said: “Now that more people are able to use buses to get to and from work, the shops and other places, it is more important than ever for all of us to wear a face covering to respect and protect those around us. I want to thank the vast majority of passengers who are abiding by the rules, and give special thanks to all the bus drivers who are helping to keep people moving. The capacity is still just 50% of normal levels on buses and we all have a part to play in reducing the pressure on our public transport services.
“I’m asking employers to do what they can to share Government travel guidance with staff and support them to avoid travelling at peak times where possible. This includes continuing to work from home if possible, consider using other forms of transport – such as cycling and walking – and changing start and finish times. I recognise that these measures aren’t possible for all types of businesses, but if we all do what we can, then we can make sure travel is as safe as it can be.
“It’s reassuring that more people are able to use bus services with more seats being put into use. My team at the West of England Combined Authority is working closely with First Bus to help manage demand now that the capacity on board buses has increased.”
James Durie, Chief Executive of Bristol Chamber & West of England Initiative at Business West, which represents over 22,000 employers across the region, added:
“Employers across the West of England have a critical role to play in ensuring their staff who commute by public transport do adhere to the Government’s mandatory requirements regarding use of face coverings, as more people return to work and bus capacity increases.
“We would advise HR departments, managers and business leaders to discuss travel arrangements with their colleagues and reiterate the need to wear a face covering if travelling by public transport to and from their workplace. Whilst a significant number of organisations will continue to operate with staff largely working from home, for those that don’t, or can’t, they should consider purchasing face coverings for their employees to make it as easy as possible for them to meet the Government’s requirement.”
Mr Durie added: “We know bus drivers have enough to do as it is to ensure their passengers arrive at their destinations safely and therefore cannot be expected to enforce the wearing of face coverings when people are boarding. It’s down to everyone travelling on the bus, which is predominantly commuters, to take individual responsibility and respect each other’s safety, as we start to get the region up and running again.”
James Freeman, Managing Director at First West of England, commented: “As we emerge from the lockdown period, there is a collective responsibility for everyone to do their bit to help protect each other. Our services have been transformed to support social distancing and all vehicles continue to be subject to a rigorous cleaning regime to make bus travel safe for our customers and drivers.
“The safety measures are most effective if customers also do their bit and adhere to the Government’s mandatory requirements for travelling on public transport, by wearing a face covering, social distancing and sanitising their hands before and after their journey.
“It is a legal requirement to wear a face covering on public transport and Avon and Somerset Police are running spot checks to help enforce this rule, which has been in place for a month. As they have done throughout the coronavirus outbreak, our drivers continue to provide bus travel for those who need it throughout the region. We’d like to thank all customers who are helping our drivers by complying with the Government regulations for bus travel. We urge that all customers do the same”
Exemptions for the use of face coverings will apply to those with certain health conditions, disabled people and children under the age of 11. To see the government guidance on face covering exemptions please follow this link.
Mr Freeman added: “We are pleased to be able to increase capacity on our buses, in response to changes in the Government’s social distancing guidelines. Whilst bus capacity still remains restricted to keep our customers safe, we know that this additional capacity will be a great relief to commuters, as well as passengers considering their first journeys for leisure purposes. There will be light at the end of the tunnel if we all play our part in helping to get the region back up and on its feet again safely.”
First Bus was the first operator to introduce seat markings in May and this move has been widely welcomed by customers across the UK. Vehicles are now being updated with new layouts and signs to inform customers of the additional seats available on board.
The changes made by First West of England have been based on robust and detailed risk assessments to ensure the ongoing safety of customers and drivers. The bus operator also continues to carry out an enhanced cleaning regime to protect against Covid-19 on surfaces, which includes the use of anti-viral sanitiser Zoono Z71.
Customers can find out more about ongoing safety precautions that First West of England are taking and view the latest service updates at the First West of England website (www.firstgroup.com/coronaviruswoe).