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Cambridgeshire mayor intervenes to keep vital bus services running for key workers and the elderly



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Cambridgeshire Mayor James Palmer has stepped in to help keep buses running for people with essential jobs and no other option to travel to work along with measures to support older people use the bus to get to the shops when necessary.

Since the UK moved to observing social distancing rules last week to help slow the spread of COVID-19, there has been a drastic reduction in the number of people travelling by bus which has led to many bus companies cutting services.

It is critically important that the public continue to observe social distancing restrictions and do not make journeys unless they are absolutely needed. However, the Combined Authority recognises there are instances where bus travel is required for necessary journeys, for example where people without a car need to do food shopping or travel to their job which has been recognised by the government as essential.

Mayor James Palmer at home in Soham. Picture: Keith Heppell. (32909514)
Mayor James Palmer at home in Soham. Picture: Keith Heppell. (32909514)

Previously people of state pension age were entitled to free bus travel after 9.30am. So that older people can get to the shops early to do their food shopping when there is more likely to be stock, the Combined Authority has supported the move to all day free bus travel for people of state pension age.

To help key workers travel to work as needed, the Combined Authority, led by Mayor Palmer, has been working with major bus providers including Stagecoach to keep key commuter buses running to get people with essential jobs such as nurses and food production workers to and from their place of employment.

The announcement today (Friday) by central government to support buses to keep running for these purposes has also been welcomed by Mayor Palmer.

He said: “It remains vitally important that we continue to limit our travel to journeys that are essential for health, work and supplies. It is therefore only natural that, with reduced passenger numbers, bus services will also be temporarily reduced.

"However, we must keep two main objectives in mind: that bus services are there for the people who need them at this difficult time, and that public transport provision can return to normal as soon as this crisis lifts. The Government’s announcement today (Friday) of support for companies who are running essential services but now making losses is the sort of support I have been calling for, and what I will continue to seek as this situation progresses.

“The Combined Authority will continue to support the provision of essential bus services and work with bus companies struggling with reduced passenger numbers to ensure the best possible transport provision both now and into the future.”

On Tuesday (31) the Mayor met with Baroness Vere, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Transport online to urge support for small bus and coach operates. The Combined Authority has also taken steps so that school bus providers continue to be paid for their contracts despite school closures to ensure they can spring back as soon as schools are able to open again.

To help ensure the resilience of bus services across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, a four point plan on how to support the UK bus industry has been submitted by the Combined Authority to the Department of Transport.

The Combined Authority continues to press forward with a major upgrade of the bus network of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with the Bus Reform Task Force holding their first virtual meeting on Tuesday this week.

The Task Force, whose membership includes Mayor Palmer, local councillors, transport campaigners and bus user groups, has been assembled by the Mayoral Combined Authority to identify options for short term improvements to bus services as well as providing input on options for longer term reform of the bus network, which includes franchising.

The group discussed how the views of a recent public survey of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough bus network will be taken forward into a 30 year vision for how bus services will be improved and expanded with new routes and made financially sustainable.

The views of over 5,000 residents across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough were sought through on-street surveys, focus groups and an online survey, which took place in November and December last year. Parish councils, neighbourhood and community groups and the NHS were asked for feedback as part of the survey work. The survey found reliability and frequency of bus services and the cost of fares were the top three most important factors in improving the bus services.



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