A BUS company said it may only buy new vehicles which have built-in screens to help passengers maintain social distancing.

NAT Group is one of many public transport operators which is trying to work out how to accommodate more passengers as coronavirus lockdown measures ease and people go back to work.

The company operates in Swansea and Cardiff and many areas in between and said passenger numbers were currently 9% of normal.

One of the many topsy-turvy announcements of Government ministers since the pandemic has been the repeated advice to avoid public transport where possible – an unthinkable mantra until just a few weeks ago.

Government guidance on social distancing on buses and trains, and who will police it, is expected but the current message in Wales remains essentially to stay at home.

NAT Group said it was considering several options about how to proceed.

A spokeswoman said: “This may take the form of increased signs and physical restrictions on some seats, but we have not yet ruled out the real prospect of specifying screens on any new buses purchased from this point onwards.

“Some vehicle manufacturers have already started to send through prototype examples, but it is for us as operators to engage with the public and with health officials to ascertain how best to provide a safe environment, but also one that doesn’t dissuade people from travelling by bus.”

She said low passenger numbers generally meant that service was a loss-making one.

“NAT Group and other operators are now in regular discussions with Welsh Government officials to try and secure some funding to support us through this very difficult period of time,” she said.

Asked if fares could rise, she replied: “Companies’ costs across all sectors have significantly increased and as such, it is regrettably inevitable that the price of various different services and items will increase over the coming few months.”

She said NAT Group was committed to remaining a good value alternative to the car, and said in some instances it had modified routes to ensure essential travel could take place.

There has been speculation that buses will only be able to take around a quarter of the usual seated capacity, meaning a single decker with 45 seats would have a maximum of 11 passengers.

First Cymru said it would add more capacity as passenger numbers – which have plummeted to as low as 7% – grow.

“In line with the publication of Welsh Government guidelines, which are expected in the coming days or weeks, we will introduce appropriate capacity management and social distancing guidelines across our fleet and communicate these to customers as soon as possible,” said a spokesman.

It was too early, he said, to speculate about any potential changes to fares.

The spokesman said its priority was to follow the current message for people in Wales of stay at home, except for food, medical, exercise and work reasons.

Asked it was applying for extra grants, he replied: “We are in regular dialogue with the Government with our industry partners.”

Train operator Transport for Wales said it was also focusing on essential travel at this stage, and that the safety of passengers and staff were its top priority.

But it said the company was employing more cleaners in readiness for changes.

A Transport for Wales spokesman said: “We are preparing to support the country during the next phase of lockdown, as we have been doing for the past two months.

“Social distancing measures will have a direct impact on the way we operate our services and we’re working closely with the rail industry and government on guidance for how this will be implemented.

“We will provide further information for our customers in the coming week and again, we’d like to urge customers to please stay at home, where possible.”

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