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‘Waiting for clarity’ - Bus companies react to Prime Minister’s speech

PUBLISHED: 13:29 11 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:29 11 May 2020

Charles Sanders, managing director of Sanders Coaches. Picture: Mark Bullimore.

Charles Sanders, managing director of Sanders Coaches. Picture: Mark Bullimore.

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Local bus companies have been reacting to the Prime Minister’s advice to commuters to avoid public transport.

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

Charles Sanders, managing director of Norfolk firm Sanders Coaches, said: “I’ve been communicating with the council and government for weeks now, saying it is going to be difficult for public transport to cope without any support from government.”

He said there are 95pc less passengers on the buses.

“Going into the next phase, telling people to avoid [public transport] isn’t going to help us from a financial point of view.” Mr Sanders said.

“It’s going to be a long time before public transport will recover because you can’t have large groups of people travelling together.

“Companies like ours won’t be around in six months time if there isn’t support.

“On the other hand they are asking us to put on services for key workers, which we’re doing, and they are paying us to do so.”

But Mr Sanders said he did not know how long the government will continue to pay for the services.

“We’re really waiting for some clarity,” he said.

He added: “I’ve got 85 vehicles. I have 30 coaches locked up in the warehouse, they won’t turn a wheel until schools reopen.

“I am running half of the bus fleet.”

The company has furloughed one third of its staff, about forty employees.

Mr Sanders said some of his suppliers have already closed down.

Chris Speed, head of operations at First Eastern Counties, said: ”There will be no imminent change to the level of bus services being provided, but we are monitoring patronage on a daily basis and will adjust services in line with demand and in accordance with government guidance.

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“We are continuing to work closely with CPT (the Confederation of Passenger Transport), the Department for Transport, and local government departments on guidance for travel on public transport and we will continue to provide bus services for key workers and people needing to make essential journeys”.

Meanwhile, Trevor Garrod, chairman of the East Suffolk Travel Association, said: “The advice of the secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, that more people should walk or cycle to work, while sensible in compact urban areas, is less realistic in a rural area like eastern Suffolk.

“Presumably Mr Shapps is not expecting people to cycle from Beccles to Norwich or Saxmundham to Ipswich every day to work.

“What is realistic is that people may walk to a bus stop or cycle to a station and continue their commute by bus or train.

“If they need to drive to the station to catch a train, easing of car park charges at local unstaffed stations should be considered.

Mr Garrod said the region is “fortunate” in having hourly trains, seven days a week, on the Ipswich – Felixstowe, Ipswich – Lowestoft and Lowestoft- Norwich lines, while most bus routes have continued to offer regular interval services between, for example, Beccles and Norwich, Southwold and Lowestoft or Saxmundham and Aldeburgh.

“The vehicles are modern and have space to cope with more passengers than they have been carrying in the past six weeks,” he said.

“We look forward to seeing what our local train and bus operators and National Government are proposing to ensure that passengers can resume use of public transport with confidence and that those who serve and work on trains and buses can be kept safe.

“Further guidance would also be needed regarding safe school transport,” Mr Garrod added.


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