August 05 2021
This week’s blog post is from Adam Keen, Managing Director at Adventure Travel. Adam writes about what is needed from Welsh Government and local authorities to get people back on board, and to put buses firmly on the map for accessible and green transport in Wales.
In many ways, bus operators now face the challenge of their lifetime where getting people back onto buses is concerned. Certainly in Wales, there have been at least three occasions where passenger numbers were beginning to climb but were then scuppered by local lockdowns and reductions in bus frequencies. There are only so many times that this can happen before people begin to lose confidence and explore alternative methods of getting from A to B. That’s not to say that as an operator we disagreed with the lockdowns in any way, but it's useful to understand the damage that they do to passenger confidence when considering how to get people back onto buses.
There are some obvious and some less obvious barriers to travelling by bus where the public are concerned. Certainly, the obvious barriers are worries about cleanliness, hygiene and general safety where the close proximity of other passengers and members of the public are concerned. There was some extremely clumsy public messaging delivered at one point throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, which effectively warned people against using buses at all because of the dangers of passing on the virus. We were fortunate in Wales that Welsh Government did not adopt the same approach. It is now within our gift to deal with cleanliness and safety concerns by continuing to ensure that our buses are cleaner than they ever have been before, but also by ensuring that our drivers are trained to be understanding of peoples concerns where cleanliness and hygiene is concerned.
There are, however, further challenges where patronage is concerned. Peoples working patterns have changed considerably and whereas weekly tickets used to be a successful way of capturing passenger loyalty for commuting, they are no longer fit for purpose as many people are now working remotely one or two days a week, or more. It is for bus operators to meet this new challenge, by introducing innovative new tickets and fares that meet the current demand and which allow a degree of flexibility.
In terms of marketing bus services, it is no exaggeration to say that a vast amount of work still needs to be done to capture not only previous bus passengers who may currently not be using the bus, but also potential new passengers who may never thought of using the bus in the past. These significant promotions needs to be nationally run, with funding from Government and trade bodies being committed to this incredibly important step. Some good work has already started in this respect, such as in Swansea where the City Council have launched a summer ‘free travel’ campaign across all bus services. This is an exemplary commitment to getting passengers back on buses and putting their money where their mouth is. The increase in passengers has been very significant indeed, with some operators reporting 65% increases in patronage on certain routes.
Doubtless though, what we need now to make bus travel as appealing as possible is a set of measures from Welsh Government / local authorities which improve bus average speeds, bus priorities and ease of access for passengers. The amount of cycle lanes that have been installed in one part of Wales which now directly cross in front of bus stops is staggering and perhaps even more surprising is the number of bus lanes that have been removed, to make way for cycle lanes. These are retrograde steps for bus ‘appeal’ and bus user safety, so we need swift and concise action to show intent. Welsh Government have been very decent in providing funding for operators during this most difficult of times and operators appreciate the dedication that has been shown with keeping the bus sector afloat. What must happen now is that the positive and fruitful collaboration that has been fostered over the last 18 months must continue, with deliverable projects to put buses firmly on the map for accessible and green transport in Wales.