By Kit Sandeman, Local Democracy Reporter
With the Government expected to release details of how – and perhaps when – the lockdown will be eased in the next few days, questions are being raised about how people might be able to use public transport again safely as usage starts to rebound.
The Prime Minister will again address the nation on Sunday, where further details are likely to be announced.
Yesterday, (Tuesday, May 4) Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said staggering employees’ working times was one of the things being looked at by the Government to help prevent crowded commutes.
He also said more buses and trains would run but he hoped to encourage cycling and walking.
However, it is not clear how the Government intends to encourage cycling and walking, and whether any new schemes would be put in place to promote this.
It comes after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said a “staged” easing would mean measures could be reintroduced to tackle “localised” outbreaks, and that the UK’s approach would not be “flicking a switch and going… back to the old normal”.
In Nottingham, transport operators are putting plans in place, but nothing can be finalised until Government guidelines are released.
Currently, passenger numbers on Nottingham City Transport buses are down 90 percent, with journeys only supposed to be being taken by key workers or those on essential trips.
Services have been reduced, but crucially have kept running to allow front-line workers to get to work.
In the case of the tram, this has been facilitated by a £3.7 million grant by the Government.
Public transport use in Nottingham before the crisis was much higher than most comparable cities, Department for Transport figures show, so safely increasing capacity is of crucial importance.
Already a host of new safety measures have been brought in on trams and buses, and operators are keenly waiting on the Government for more instructions on how this might need to be strengthened.
A spokesman for Nottingham City Transport said: “NCT is currently carrying 90 percent fewer customers a day, as most people follow government guidance and do not travel.
“We are looking at additional services we may introduce to provide extra capacity to accommodate an increase in usage that may come following relaxation of the current government restrictions.
“We are working with our industry trade body, who are liaising with the Government and once their advice and guidance on how public transport operators should operate post-lockdown is available, NCT will ensure that it complies fully, as we have throughout the current lockdown period.
“We would remind people that the current instruction is that journeys by public transport should only be made for essential journeys and not if people feel unwell or live with someone who is self-isolating.”
Councillor Adele Williams is the portfolio holder for transport at the city council, and represents the Sherwood ward for Labour.
She said: “We’re working with local public transport operators to plan towards lockdown restrictions being lifted. We will await further details from the Government and will be ready to put the necessary measures in place to ensure services continue to operate safely once more passengers begin to return. The safety of passengers and transport staff is our priority.
“We would always encourage anyone who has the option of cycling to work to do so – it has great health benefits, as well as being a cheap form of transport and easy to do while maintaining a distance from others.
“Now may be a good time to give it a go, with plenty of safe cycle routes around the city – and free bikes for key workers through the Nottingham Bike Aid scheme.”
A spokesman for NET said: “The safety and wellbeing of customers and employees remains our overriding priority and we will continue to follow the general advice that’s been issued by the government and Public Health England to help prevent the spread of covid-19.
“Should this guidance change when the government reviews existing restrictions, we will act accordingly.”