We are in unprecedented and challenging times. Shops, bars, leisure complexes restaurants are closing (hopefully temporarily) and the knock-on effect on the transport and leisure sector is huge.
We have seen London Underground announce station and even route closures and bus companies are faced with a massive loss of passengers and the country goes into self-isolation or works from home. From next week many operators will have no school work as most schools are closed. Coach operators have seen their excursion and tours programme decimated and leisure operations such as MoorsBus and Liverpool Sightseeing will not be operating. Many others will follow.
The situation for bus companies is dire. Many are considering drastic reductions in services. Not to a revised weekday or Saturday service but to Sunday services although we understand that rather than basic Sunday services they are considering an enhanced Sunday service. This presumably means earlier starts and slightly later finishes in some areas.
Operators have responded to COVID-19 by ensuring they have robust cleaning regimes in place to protect staff and passengers and a number are discouraging payment by cash and urging the use of Contactless payments. There are many passengers who can use Contactless but have preferred to pay but fares in cash. I suspect they will migrate to Contactless and when we return to normal, whenever that is, cash payments on buses will become the exception. These are challenging times for operators and staff with massive uncertainty and we wish them well and trust that they will manage to ride the challenges, although we accept that inevitably some won’t.
So turning to the railway. There is speculation that the Government will temporarily take back control of franchises. Train operators have also seen massive reductions in passengers and I suspect we may be just days away from an announcement that services on many routes will be drastically cut.
Like the bus and coach industry the rail industry has responded by ensuring it maintains a robust cleaning regime. Avanti West Coast and LNER have closed their First Class Lounges and LNER has stopped food service on its trains.
There is massive uncertainty over what the future holds and we are pleased to see that LNER is offering full refunds on Advance tickets - by means of a e-Voucher. Other operators, guided by Government and the Rail Delivery Group are saying that Advance ticket holders can change their booking without having to pay the £10 per ticket admin fee. However, I have tickets with GWR for an even now cancelled. It could be held later this year or early next year. Do I change the date and then every 12 weeks when booking horizons are updated change it again until I get to the new event date. That could be several changes. I doubt that every one will be fee free so it is possible I will lose out. My personal experience could well make me think again about travelling by rail in the future.
Then we get to hotels. I have a booking in late May with a major chain. Yes, I accept that it was an advance rate which normally cannot be cancelled. I am told I can cancel and lose several hundred pounds because my booking is after 30th April. Come on now, this current health issue will not be over as the clock approached midnight on 30th April! I accept these are challenging times for the hospitality sector but had I been offered even a voucher I would have re-booked later in the year. Now I will fight for a refund.
What we are lacking is some kind of consistency and clear information. I recognise that the current focus is on the day to day events, however, companies must also be aware of the longer term. Only by doing so will the be able to manage their business once normality returns. Ignoring the future now could spell disaster.
Finally we offer our thanks to everyone in all sectors of business and health are working hard to keep the UK safe and functioning. We salute you!
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.