Back to school 09/09/2020

James Freeman, Managing Director of First West of England, writes about what he and the rest of First West of England have been doing to help get children back to school. 

‘Autumn Term’ has looked very different for us as an operator this year.  While we always work closely with the local authorities and higher education bodies on transport provision for the start of a new academic year, 2020 has been unprecedented in terms of the planning we have had to undertake  as we try and navigate our way  through the first couple of weeks of  school term.  And, of course, we then have the subsequent return of students to colleges and universities at the start of October.   Although our occupancy rate is back up to around 50% of pre-lockdown, we are in uncharted waters as we try and predict how much more that figure will rise in the next few weeks.

Of course we understand that fear is the main obstacle to using public transport again.   Many of our customers will have been shielding and parents will have concerns about how their children will cope being on board a bus again after so many months at home.   That’s why we have done everything we can to try and mitigate that fear and reassure customers that we have measures in place that should give them confidence.  Underlying everything is our rigorous cleaning regime which every vehicle undergoes daily, with high touch points cleaned regularly in between with anti-viricidal solution.  We continue to follow Government guidelines for transport operators on social distancing and social bubbles.  This means that we are running many more buses on some routes to compensate for loss of capacity.  Even so, we are keeping a very close eye on any hot spots where buses may be too full for children to board – if this is the case we have other vehicles at strategic points in the city that can be redeployed quickly so no child is left behind.  The local authorities will also be able to procure at very short notice additional capacity from funds provided from the Department for Education should this be needed.

Where possible we have created social bubbles on some of our school buses – denoted on the vehicle by an ‘s’ after the route number.  These buses will be closed services and carry only pupils and teachers from the same school. 

Finally, face coverings.  Our drivers have discovered this can be a challenge, but it is not their job to police what is now a mandatory requirement.  if we ask the public to do one thing it is to wear a mask when travelling on our vehicles unless they are exempt: if not for themselves, then for their fellow passengers.

We’re all in this together – but we are ready when you are.