THE Welsh Government has announced an additional £10m to help the bus industry safely transport more passengers to school, college and work.
On the same day, the Welsh Government has updated its learner transport guidance so that local authorities and bus operators are clear on the steps they must take to ensure that from September children and young people can travel safely to school and college.
The new academic term will see children and young people returning to full-time school or college for the first time since March. As a result, there will be a significant increase in the number of children, young people and parents relying on bus services to safely transport them to their place of learning or work.
The additional £10m of Welsh Government funding is to help operators manage the increased pressure on scheduled bus services. It recognises that social distancing measures are resulting in reduced capacity and that this, in turn, is significantly affecting ticket revenue. The additional funding will enable operators to increase the number of buses available while also helping to cover costs associated with additional staffing, fuel and maintenance of the bus fleet
Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters said:
“Coronavirus and the introduction of necessary social distancing laws have placed significant pressure on our bus operators, affecting the ticket revenue on which they rely.
“As children and young people prepare to return to school and college from September and as a result, more parents also return to the workplace, we need to do all we can to ensure that people across Wales can safely access reliable bus services.
“This additional £10m will enable Local Authorities and operators to determine and deliver the additional services needed to support learners to safely return to school and college. It will also enable bus users who cannot work from home to return to the workplace in a safe manner.
“We recognise that this is a very challenging time for our bus operators and we will continue working closely with them and do all we can to support them at this difficult time.”
The Welsh Government has also updated its operational guidance for schools, which includes guidance on transport, catering arrangements and revised shielding and ‘Test, Trace Protect’ guidance. A workforce risk assessment toolkit has also been included.
The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams:
“This guidance has been updated to take into consideration the most up-to-date public health advice to enable local authorities, schools and colleges to plan for the safe return of students and staff in September.
“It has been my priority for learners and staff to return to schools and colleges as soon as we were assured it was safe to do so, for the benefit of their education and well-being needs. I would like to once again thank staff for all their hard work in making this possible.”
WLGA Leader and Spokesperson for Transport Cllr Andrew Morgan said:
“Recent months have been really difficult for bus and coach operators who we rely on to get our children safely to schools across Wales. Throughout all of this, there has been constructive joint working between the Welsh Government, local authorities and operators. This latest allocation of funding from Welsh Government will help operators deal with challenges they face as we work with them to get systems back up and running again in time for the return to school”.
CPT Cymru Director John Pockett said:
“We welcome this funding from the Welsh Government which follows our negotiations with them. Members will be liaising with ATCO colleagues and Transport for Wales to identify where the funding needs to be targeted.
“We want to work closely with the Government here to ensure that the funding support is best used to safeguard the bus industry with passengers firmly at its heart.
“We also welcome the guidance from Welsh Government regarding the return of school transport operations, and recognise the hard work of all involved in its formulation during what has been a worrying time for all concerned and we will continue to work in partnership with all stakeholders to ensure the safe transport of pupils.”
In Wales, it is the law that people aged 11 and over must wear face coverings on public transport. This law does not apply to school transport.