Covid: Call for distancing rules on buses to be eased

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Image source, McGill's

Social distancing rules on buses should be relaxed to cater for increased demand, a leading operator has claimed.

Current Scottish government guidance is for one metre physical distancing on all forms of public transport.

But independent operator McGill's says the restrictions mean it is now turning away people at peak times because its buses are full.

Trade unions have said any changes must be in line with Scottish government Covid guidance.

Transport Scotland said the Scottish government had "invested significantly" to ensure public transport services were available during the pandemic and said capacity on public transport would still need to be managed as wider restrictions are eased.

McGill's managing director Ralph Roberts told the Good Morning Scotland programme he was worried a "healthy return" of passengers would be stymied by the distancing rules not being eased quickly enough.

Bus industry sources have told BBC Scotland that a number of operators are nearing capacity at peak times under existing social distancing rules.

They fear people will be put off getting back to using buses if the situation worsens.

There is no current timetable for when all social distancing requirements in Scotland will be lifted but a significant further relaxation of Covid rules is expected in the coming months.

Mr Roberts said: "Bus service use is about 65% of normal pre-pandemic levels and it is growing every week and we have still to reach the next level of the lockdown release, so people are going to be turned away at bus stops due to the one metre distancing.

"It is happening now. Thankfully it is on frequent services so there will be a bus in the next five to 10 minutes."

Mr Roberts, whose firm mainly operates in the west of Scotland, said he was not advocating that changes to social distancing were "done today" but rather in "due course" to allow the industry to cater for the increasing demand.

Image caption,
All of Scotland's public bus operators, including First, saw passenger numbers collapse in the wake of the Covid pandemic as people were being urged to stay home

A spokesman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport (Scotland), a trade association for the bus and coach industries, said: "Data shows the risk Covid transmission on public transport is minimal compared to many other public settings, suggesting that the measures introduced by operators thus far have been effective.

"CPT hopes that the next review of social distancing recognises this and allows bus to follow the lead of other sectors and increase capacity.

"Only then can we hope to meet increasing demand, provide an attractive and affordable alternative to car and thereby contribute to reducing emissions related to transport."

Transport Scotland data on the use of concessionary travel passes shows a steady increase in the number of people using buses in recent months.

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Dougie Maguire of the Unite union told Good Morning Scotland that the "policing of passengers on buses" was still a concern for bus drivers, who want restrictions eased in a "safe and controlled manner".

He said: "The bus companies in Scotland cannot be allowed to drive the rules on this."

Mr Maguire said the industry had to be led by Scottish government guidance.

He said: "We all want to see bus services back to full capacity but these restrictions are still in place, and until they are lifted we don't see that it makes sense whatsoever to have multiple journeys by lots of people on buses."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "Capacity on public transport is currently restricted due to the requirement for one metre physical distancing on services alongside a range of other measures to help protect the public, passengers and staff from the risks associated with Covid.

"As restrictions ease demand for public transport will increase, however, we will still need to manage capacity to ensure physical distancing is maintained as much as possible."

The spokesman said the Scottish government has "invested significantly" to ensure transport services were available at key times, also allowing for more capacity on some busier routes.

A campaign to encourage people back on to public transport once the pandemic is over is also planned.

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