Industry’s contribution during floods recognised
In a speech to the Commons, Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, paid tribute to bus and coach companies for their work in keeping the nation on the move during the recent flooding. He praised the industry after meeting a delegation from the CPT and the five largest PCV operators in the country (National Express, Stagecoach, FirstGroup, Arriva and Go-Ahead) to discuss the transport difficulties caused by the severe weather. The Confederation delivered details to the MP on how operators were dealing with the conditions, gathered from a recent information request to bus and coach companies. McLoughlin expressed delight that the UK coach network kept to schedule with no significant disruption. He was pleased to hear of operators laying on extra seats to ease the pressure on the worst affected areas. At the meeting, it was agreed that the Government will establish an early warning system, building on existing channels of communication between train companies and those running buses and coaches to ensure a quick response to emerging challenges, identifying areas where disruption could be minimised and additional services may be needed.
Patrick McLoughlin said, ‘The meeting has reassured me that the companies running the UK’s thousands of coach and bus services understand the unprecedented situation we face and are working hard to do whatever is needed to keep the country moving. I am delighted to hear that the national coach network is operating normally with no significant disruption. Coach operators have also laid on thousands of extra seats to ease the pressure in the worst affected areas, and I was pleased to hear from the industry that there is capacity in the UK’s bus and coach fleet to provide extra services in the case of more widespread or prolonged severe weather. We need to make sure that we make full use of the flexibility that is built into the transport network. When our railways are hit by this scale of disruption, we need to make it as easy as possible for the public to reach their destinations by alternative means.’
CPT Chairman, Ian Morgan, said, ‘Once again the industry has shown its resilience and ability to respond in a crisis whilst keeping Britain open for business. Bus and coach operators remain on hand to help wherever required and we will continue to work closely with Government at all levels throughout the ongoing difficulties.’
This is not to say the industry has not felt the brunt of the flooding and downpours. Reading Buses described the disruption to its bus services caused by severe flooding as considerable. Roads have been closed with some major routes causing such a knock on effect that people on the other side of Reading have been affected. At one point, gridlock in the town resulted in many buses, particularly in the hours up to lunchtime, taking up to four times as long as scheduled to cover their routes. The operator assured passengers that everything was being done to try and keep things on track. Whenever the company had spare buses and drivers, they have been used to try and fill in gaps. CEO, James Freeman, urged customers to use social media and the Reading Buses website for updates.
James said, ‘This left a lot of people waiting in the rain. Our telephone switchboard was inundated with calls from people trying to establish the position of their bus. We could tell them that all the buses were on the road, and where their bus was, what we couldn’t tell them was when they would arrive as a lot of them were stuck in heavy traffic.’
In Worcester, the closure of the main Severn bridge due to the conditions effectively cut the city in two for several days. All but one access road was flooded and buses for the western suburbs were having to take a long diversion via the bypass bridge to the south of the city. The bus station exit was also affected, meaning some buses had to load on street for a time. To keep the city linked up, Worcestershire County Council put on a free shuttle bus running between 07.00 and 22.00 across the bridge, negotiating floodwater outside the cricket club on the west bank. The County also recognised the commercial impact on city traders and offered free use of Worcester’s Park and Ride service over the weekend to encourage visitors.
Stagecoach has been praised for introducing a package of measures to help communities affected by the closure of the storm damaged railway line at Dawlish, Devon. Around 80 metres of sea wall was destroyed by high tides and storms, causing a significant stretch of railway to collapse into the sea. Work is underway to repair the seawall, but it is estimated that the line between Exeter St David’s and Newton Abbot will not reopen until mid-March. The operator is discounting single and return fares on key routes in Devon by up to 50%. The reduced fares will be available on its Hop2, Hop11 and B bus services, for all stops along the coast between Starcross and Newton Abbot. The company is further extending the travel zones covered by its multi-journey tickets to include areas affected by rail disruption. The zone for its Torbay Dayrider and Megarider tickets is being expanded to include journeys between Teignmouth, Newton Abbot and Torquay. It also extended the coverage of its ‘Exeter Plus’ Dayrider and Megarider zone to include Dawlish. Stagecoach also confirmed that it will be accepting First Great Western rail tickets on its bus journeys between Exeter and Newton Abbot while rail services remain disrupted. The operator pledged the special fares and extended travel zones will remain in place until the railway line at Dawlish is re-opened.
MD of Stagecoach South West, Michael Watson, said, ‘Communities in the south west are facing a daily struggle against the impact of some of the most severe and relentless weather conditions we’ve ever seen. Transport is absolutely vital to our region to get people to work and ensure they can get on as best they can with their daily lives. At times like this it’s important we all pull together.’
Town Centre Development Manager for Dawlish and Teignmouth, Emma Kay, said, ‘We are delighted to hear that Stagecoach are providing more support for those affected by travel and have now included Teignmouth too. The railway is an essential link for our communities, which is being highlighted by the disruption that the closure is causing.’