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‘People are on edge’ - Bus company dealing with coronavirus impact

PUBLISHED: 16:32 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:32 18 March 2020

First Norwich buses general manager Chris Speed. First buses are making improvements to their service, including the bus colours, interior seating and routes. The Red Line bus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

First Norwich buses general manager Chris Speed. First buses are making improvements to their service, including the bus colours, interior seating and routes. The Red Line bus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Stressed passengers and unprecedented levels of absenteeism are at least two of the pressures a regional bus company is under during these early days of dealing with the coronavirus.

For Chris Speed, head of operations at First Bus Eastern Counties, it has been a “busy few days” as the company attempts to understand and plan for the impact of the pandemic on its services.

“At present there are no plans to change services,” Mr Speed said. “But we are seeing higher levels of absenteeism than we have previously experienced.

“We’re not sure how that will go. It’s something to worry about. It’s not like in a supermarket, where if a shopping till assistant is absent the queue just gets longer.

“If it gets more severe we’ll have to work out which services we can’t run,” he said.

First bus in Norwich; Photo: Bill SmithFirst bus in Norwich; Photo: Bill Smith

The company has seen a big drop in passengers in the middle of day, while numbers in the morning and evening are still steady, but if the schools close that will have a “big effect”, Mr Speed said.

“From the passengers’ point of view there is a lot of worry, a lot of uncertainty,” he added.

“People’s patience is being tested at the moment. We’re seeing a lot of stressed passengers. You can tell a lot of people are on edge,” Mr Speed said.

MORE: Golden Mile amusements in Great Yarmouth will stay open unless ‘told to do otherwise’

Surfaces in the company’s fleet of buses are being deep cleaned - and on Monday (March 16) advertisements were posted across Norfolk and Suffolk, looking for 17 more cleaners.

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“Within ten minutes an ad in Lowestoft already had 13 people applying, which is quite a good rate,” Mr Speed said.

Elsewhere, KonectBus, which runs the park and ride services in and out of Norwich, has opted to suspend the Postwick park and ride service (route 5) from Friday, March 20.

A post on the provider’s website alerting people to the change says the decision was made to increase driver coverage on more frequently used services

And Border Bus, another of the region’s providers, has scaled back its services, cancelling service between Norwich and the Waveney area.

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