Britannia Bus: Now is the time for a bus renaissance 13/10/2020

Derek Taylor, Director of Britannia Bus, writes a guest blog post for CPT about the impact of Covid-19 on Britannia Bus services and operations, working collaboratively with passengers, and challenges facing the bus industry going forwards.

I used to question whether membership of CPT offered me good value for money. My view mellowed a little when they managed to get some of the worst aspects of The Bus Bill taken out, but it wasn’t really until the Corona outbreak that they have really demonstrated their worth to me.

That fateful day 23rd March I attempted a day off, which is always a prelude to a problem- so I apologise to the whole Country as it was my fault that a slightly less coherent than usual Boris appeared on TV telling us the Country was locked up for the foreseeable.

Up and down the Country bus depots were full of discussion; we decided straight away to run a reduced service and see what happened. Then came an email from CPT telling us DfT would be offering emergency funding to keep a basic bus service running. As a small fleet, our staff are closer than in a large fleet and I was damned if I’d let any be made redundant.

I very much doubt whether the Coronavirus Bus Services Support Grant would have existed were it not for CPT and in reality were it not for that scheme I doubt whether many companies, from fleets like ours to the mighty PLCs could have survived. CPT has provided a lifeline to bus operators that we’d not have had otherwise.

One thing we’ve done differently to other operators is we have worked collaboratively with passengers so that they understand the social distancing requirements, and educating them if they are unsure. From day one we realised that we need to give passengers a bit more credit, they know the rules and instinctively seek to social distance, and patronising them with constant rules is counter-productive.

My fear post Covid-19 is that rising taxes and falling spending will leave the government with no choice but to deflect attention to private enterprise. Picture this “…and the bus companies greedily took £millions from you, the tax payer, whilst giving a lower service.” The government could find a lot of support for a re-Nationalisation by stealth; something normally a Conservative administration would never tolerate. Of course this claim is nonsense, but when was UK politics anything but nonsense? I counsel that aside from industry back slapping over a few key routes that in a growing number of areas there are no buses at all and that does us no favours with gaining public support.

I believe now is the perfect time for a bus renaissance. What we need to remember is that whilst bus ridership is increasing, we are safe. Our real challenge post Covid-19 is the way English National Concessionary Travel Scheme is calculated and how this leads to a vicious spiral of permanent fare rises.

One last point: Some members will be looking at cost cutting. Please don’t cut your CPT membership. Remember it’s likely due to them that you’re here reading this now.

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