AM Questions Minister on Transport Issues

Monmouth Assembly Member, Nick Ramsay, raised a number of Covid 19 transport issues with Ken Skates AM during last week’s virtual Plenary session.

Speaking during Plenary Nick referred to problems with public transport and also referred  to the problems of maintaining social distancing on public transport.

Nick said: “I’d like to mention the case of a key worker at the Heath hospital, who I know waited 75 minutes the other night for a bus home. I just wonder what's being done to support the bus industry at this time, particularly when it comes to our key workers and providing them transport back and forth; they're on the front line. And, of course, the bus drivers themselves and the staff with Transport for Wales—they’re on the front line as well, and I wonder whether PPE has been considered for them. I know there are stresses and strains on at the moment, but that might be something to look at going forward.

“And the haulage industry, and delivery drivers—Amazon and the like—they're working very hard for companies at the moment, and they are, probably, in many cases, keeping the economy moving in terms of people getting their supplies and people getting their shopping. So, I just wonder what help is being made available to companies like that to provide adequate protection for their drivers and for their staff.”

Ken Skates AM, Minister for Economy & Transport replied: “In terms of transport, we have, of course, provided the bus industry with the hardship fund. After we announced that, the UK Government made an announcement that, essentially, ensured that Scotland, Wales and England were all offering the same degree of support to bus operators during this time. But we're obviously, as you can imagine, now considering how to support buses as we emerge from coronavirus, how we, as you've identified, ensure that social distancing on bus services can be maintained and what sort of support would be required to the sector in order to maintain that, with the inevitable consequence that it has in terms of the hit to the fare box, particularly for those commercially viable routes. That's something that we're actively considering now. I had a conference call with WLGA transport and economy leads this morning, and I identified a number of work streams that are taking place at the moment, and it's my intention to work with local authority partners and with the likes of the Confederation of Passenger Transport to ensure that we get the appropriate support for the industry in the future and that we develop a model for local bus services that is fit for the future as well, given that we will probably see behavioural change exist for at least the next 12 months, if not 24 months, which would, could and probably will be to reduce patronage on bus services. That means that we have to make sure that we bring forward some of the radical ideas that we published in the White Paper, so that we're able to address some of the perception issues of bus services in order to try to drive up patronage amongst new customers, new travellers, whilst we see some existing travellers decide not to take buses because of what's happened with coronavirus, because they're fearful of getting too close to other passengers.

There are some industry best practice standards that have been developed, for example, cordoning off seats so that nobody sits within close proximity to one another, so that people are kept away from bus drivers. I have heard that, for the most part, bus companies themselves have been very responsible in ensuring that drivers are given some protection in the form of hand sanitisers and so forth. Equally, though, I have heard of one or two cases where employers have not been as responsible as the industry and certainly as we would expect. This is something that's been raised directly with them. We're in very, very close contact, as you can imagine, with Transport for Wales over how we're going to be able to ensure that we can maintain social distancing rules once we start to emerge from coronavirus. That will obviously have an impact in terms of rolling stock provision on the most demanding lines, those lines where capacity has already been reached. This is something we're considering at the moment. Again, based on the evidence that we've been able to gather, we expect that behavioural change will lead to, at least in the short term, a drop in patronage on our railways, and we're working with TfW Rail Services in assessing how that will impact on the agreement that was reached just a few years ago on the franchise.

I think that covers pretty much everything, apart from the important point that Nick Ramsay raised about drivers, and how the private sector is also ensuring that employees are given the protection that they need. Again, there are—albeit anecdotally—there are varying standards that are being adopted by delivery companies. I'm keen to make sure that as we reset the economy and then as we recover from coronavirus, we develop—and I'll be very, very keen to ensure that the sectors themselves are leading on this—develop clear protocols that can be applied consistently, if possible, across the UK, which will enable a consistent approach to be applied both within the public and the private sector so that standards in terms of social distancing for the public sector on transport can be applied also to the sort of standards that would need to be met for and on behalf of and by delivery drivers as well.”