First West of England announces new innovative measures to enable social distancing on board
First West of England is introducing a number of measures to ensure that social distancing guidelines on public transport can be adhered to across its bus fleet, giving customers further reassurance about the safety of bus travel. This follows a successful experiment carried out on Route 24 in Bristol since 4th May.
The new measures include a ground-breaking passenger counting facility and follow on from the Government’s publication of guidance to ensure the ongoing safety of customers and employees as their plans to ease restrictions progressively unfold.
The most visible sign will be on board where passengers will be clearly directed to only use seats that are at an appropriate distance from each other. This necessary step to ensure that buses are safe for everyone will reduce the capacity of each bus by over 75% and seats will be clearly marked on all First West of England’s vehicles by Monday 25 May.
Drivers will have a key role to play in ensuring the buses do not become overloaded against their reduced capacity limits. Over the next few days there will be a facility added to the Ticketer machine, which is on each bus, that allows drivers to count passengers on and off and which advises them what, if any, available capacity remains. Where a bus is full, the driver will show a “SORRY BUS FULL” display on the destination screen.
James Freeman, managing director at First West of England, said: “We are introducing additional social distancing measures on our operating bus fleet across the region as well as a wide range of travel safely advice – from wearing a face covering to using contactless payment.
“We expect there will be occasions when customers may not be able to board their intended journey due to capacity levels being reached. In line with this, we are therefore advising those who cannot avoid public transport to check their journey details in advance, avoid busier periods and allow extra time for their journey as they may need to wait if their bus is full when it arrives.
“We would ask for people’s patience during these challenging times as lockdown restrictions are lifted, as we adapt our service provision around the government’s guidance. Together we can all play a crucial role in getting the region back on its feet again.
Freeman added: “We are also working hard with central government and locally with West of England Combined Authority and North Somerset Council and are almost ready to increase our levels of service.”
West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles, said: “We all need to continue to play our part in helping to reduce the potential strain on public transport as we begin to carefully get the region moving again. Buses will not be able to carry as many people as usual because of the steps needed to keep passengers and staff safe, so I would encourage everyone to think carefully about whether they really need to travel. If you do have to make a journey then please consider cycling, walking or other forms of travel - so that public transport is available to those who have no other option.
“Businesses can also play an important role, by continuing to support staff to work from home, or allowing flexible working if this works for their business, so that their staff can avoid rush hour.
“I also want to say thank you to all First West of England staff for the tremendous effort they have put in over the last few weeks to overcome the huge challenges they have faced. They have played a key role in making sure our NHS, care staff and key workers can continue to do their vital jobs.”
The passenger counting functionality will have been delivered by Ticketer in less than two weeks since conversations began.
Dave Lynch, chief information officer of FirstGroup, said “Since the Government’s announcements last week, we have been working round the clock to find ways to innovate, so that on our buses we can ensure safe, socially distanced space for our passengers. We are immensely proud that we have been able to develop this new system so quickly with Ticketer, empowering our drivers to be able to manage the capacity of each bus. We fully support the Government’s guidelines and urge passengers to only travel if their journey is essential.”
John Clarfelt, CEO of Ticketer, added “We are once again delighted to be working closely with First Bus in developing this ground-breaking technology which will be so vital for drivers as the numbers of passengers using buses over the coming weeks increases”.