Agenda item

Covid-19 Recovery - Transport and Infrastructure

To consider observations on the impact of Covid-19 and prospects for future reset and recovery from representatives of the following organisations:

       BH Active

       Local BCP Bus Companies

       South Western Railway

       Access Dorset

The following Cabinet Portfolio Holder is also invited to attend the Board meeting for consideration of this item:

       Portfolio Holder for Transport and Infrastructure


The purpose of this scrutiny is to listen to a wide range of stakeholders to gain a greater understanding of the wider effects of Covid-19 and to take into account the views of the external stakeholder in future scrutiny of the impact of Covid-19, in line with the Board’s role as enabler of the voice and concerns of the public. 


Regional Development Manager of South Western Trains, Andrew Ardley, described the measures and processes being adopted across the rail network in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. He set out the enhanced regime of train and station cleaning being undertaken and outlined measures being taken to educate customers and to promote good practice.

It was explained that the rail service was currently operating under the terms of an Emergency Measures Agreement prescribed by Central Government although the Agreement was expected to be reviewed in September 2020.

In practice this was all reported to be happening within the context of significant changes in travel patterns with considerable reduction in passenger numbers.

Initiatives being pursued going forward included exploration of new opportunities for flexible ticketing and improved facilities for customers in trains and at stations. Examples included improvements in toilets and other facilities on stations and better provision for cycles and storage and carriage of luggage.

There was a recognition of the benefits of working in partnership with BCP Council to identify and assess likely changes in future travel patterns and to develop an appropriate response. This could potentially encompass provision of facilities available in stations and a better understanding of the way in which passengers travel to the station for onward rail travel. There was agreement that the Council was very well placed to have a role in gathering customer and user information from the local public.

The following responses were provided in response to questions raised by members of the Overview and Scrutiny Board:

Assurances were provided that a wide range of flexible ticketing options were being examined and prepared for submission through to Central Government regulators.

The concerns of local people around visitors travelling on trains and arriving in the area without wearing face coverings had already been highlighted and the Board was assured that everything possible within the powers of the rail operators was being done to enforce compliance with regulations including the involvement of the Police and the Transport Police who were the only bodies authorised to take punitive enforcement action.

In relation to Pokesdown station, complex options for station development and improvement continued to be developed and discussions were ongoing.

The Chair of BH Active Travel, Jason Falconer, described his organisation’s ongoing dialogue with BCP Council at Councillor and at Officer level and there was enthusiasm expressed for working with the Council on the provision of clear communication for the public on available alternative travel options. A number of positive initiatives were in place across the BCP Council area including, for example, the ‘Beryl Bikes’ scheme and reducing vehicle use in areas such as town centres and in beach areas was expressed as a continuing priority.

The Board once again recognised the beneficial work already undertaken as the BCP Council responded to changing travel patterns and the Board recorded its appreciation of the work already undertaken by Council Officers within the Growth and Infrastructure teams particularly in respect of the success that had been achieved in taking full advantage, within very short timescales, of funding available from Central Government.

The Operations Director of GoSW Busses, David Lee-Kong, reported a similar slump in numbers of bus passengers and described the continuing impact and effect of Central Government’s comments early in the pandemic which encouraged avoidance of public transport. Although this message was no longer being promoted, targeted messages were still required to counter-balance these early messages and to bring passengers back into the network.

Support provided by the Council and its Officers was welcomed and grants from Central Government had enabled the maintenance of, an albeit much reduced, service for local key workers. From September, however, it was hoped to be able to return to 100% of network mileage although with each vehicle running at 50% of capacity in order to maintain social distancing. Provision of the school bus service routes would also be fully introduced with extra capacity should it prove to be required.

The Managing Director of Yellow Busses, David Squire, described the impact upon Yellow Busses services and provided the Board with further detail about the risk assessment approach across the bus service sector and the improvements that had resulted from it. Once again, services were being increased from September with considerable effort being focussed on communicating with the public.

Against this background, the Board noted with concern the reported level of abuse directed against bus staff particularly on the subject of wearing of face coverings and the efforts being made to address this were noted.

The following responses were provided in response to questions raised by members of the Overview and Scrutiny Board:

It was confirmed that bus companies were continuing to look at alternative types of bus (electric busses for example) and that some trials were taking place, although not presently within the BCP Council area. Further development was likely to be dependent on return to a sound financial situation post pandemic and when there was, once again, financial capacity for development.

Assurances were provided about the measures being taken to provide a safe working environment for staff with current risk being identified and addressed. Individual employees were integral to the process as well as the close involvement of Trade Unions.

In response to questions about routes and fares it was explained that fares could not be increased during the pandemic period as the companies continued to operate under the Emergency Agreement. This was also regulated under national policy although some initiatives were being pursued. Examples included working with the Councils to obtain funding to help integrate bus routes into large new housing developments. Bus companies also anticipated the need to respond to the changing patterns of passenger travel resulting from the changes generally to the economic and wider employment situation within the BCP area.

The Chairman of the Board thanked the representatives of the travel infrastructure companies for their helpful insights and informative presentations. The Board welcomed the positive approaches towards planning for recovery during the post Covis19 period.