Rail and bus services to be cut as demand for public transport drops

Bus and rail operators in Scotland are to bring in reduced timetables as demand for services drops in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs ScotRail has experienced a 30% drop in demand for its train services since the start of this week – with the operator “urgently” working on a new timetable.

Bus passenger numbers will likely be down about 20% from the start of the month, he added.

Bus operators are looking at making changes to timetables, because of reduced passenger numbers during the Covid19 outbreak, MSPs were told.(Danny Lawson/PA)

While he said ferry operators CalMac and Serco NorthLink are looking to maintain services at the present moment, the Transport Secretary said changes could have to be made to these in the next two weeks.

Steps could be taken to prioritise getting essential goods and medical supplies on to islands, he added.

He told Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee: “The rail sector has witnessed a very significant reduction in passenger services over the course of a short period of time.

“ScotRail has advised they have seen about a 30% reduction in demand since Monday.

“Consequently a reduced level of service from ScotRail is being planned urgently and details on this will be provided in the very near future.

“Additionally, Caledonian Sleeper have contingency plans in place and are keeping theses under review.”

For bus journeys, he said initial data suggested there had been a fall of 20% in journeys made by users of free bus pass holders compared to the start of the month, with the fall in trips by other users likely to show a “similar level of decline”.

Both bus and train operators have put in place “enhanced cleaning” regimes at the moment, Mr Matheson added.

Michael Matheson spoke about the impact that Covid-19 was having on the transport sector (Andrew Milligan/PA)

On ferries, he said “the plans which both Serco and CalMac have put in place are to maintain services as they stand at the present moment”, although he warned “that may change”.

Mr Matheson said: “As they potentially start to lose staff to coronavirus there maybe a need for them to revisit their existing timetable arrangements.

“They may not be able to retain the existing frequency of service and if so they may have to look at reducing services but also potentially look at what those services can be used for so, for example, making sure we maintain access for essential goods, medical supplies, etc.”

He added: “What we want to do is make sure we continue to provide those vial lifeline services but there will need to be changes going forward in the next week to two weeks in order to make sure we’ve got resilience in the service.”

The Transport Secretary said Loganair, which flies between many of Scotland’s remote island communities, is cutting services by 55%.

He said despite the reductions, all islands would have some flights, with no communities left stranded.

Mr Matheson added Loganair are “not going to take up the Flybe routes at the present moment”.

“In our discussions with them what we have sought to do is to make sure no island loses out so all islands continue to have air connectivity and the schedule they have brought forward ensures that continues to be the case,” the Transport Secretary said.

“What you will see is a reduction in frequency, it maybe that they will go from one island to the next to pick up passengers before moving to the mainland.”

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