Northern Trains reported on difficulties over the past year in training drivers while still maintaining social distancing. Through work with trade unions and safety advisors a new method of training had begun shortly after Christmas and was working well, and the additional cover from newly-trained drivers had allowed Northern Trains to put all new trains into operation in Bradford.
Patronage levels were currently between 15-20% of normal pre-Covid numbers, with the return to school having increased these figures somewhat. Northern Trains thanked the Combined Authority for their recent help in providing standby buses from Guiseley to assist young people getting home after school, and these extra buses would remain in place.
A summer timetable would be introduced on 16 May 2021, and would be designed to support the efforts to return to normalcy post-Covid. Demand was expected to increase, particularly in the leisure market, and services would go back to an almost full level during the day with more staff deployed to support this. Connections to the coast and leisure spots such as the Dales, Ilkley, etc, were expected to be in-demand and adequate coverage would need to be put in place.
The performance of trains at the current level of service was reported as good, with over 90% of trains arriving at their destination within three minutes of the expected time.
Arriva reported that timetables had been reduced in February in response to a request from the Department for Transport to reduce mileage. Monday-Friday service levels had since been restored to 100% of pre-pandemic levels. Saturday service remained at a reduced level, but this was planned to return to pre-pandemic levels once non-essential retail had opened. Reduced capacity due to social distancing was still in effect, but extra journeys were in place to support the busiest routes, particularly surrounding journeys to and from schools.
It was noted that staff absences had been at a heightened level due to Covid-19, but Arriva remained fully staffed to deliver all registered services.
FirstGroup reported that they had resumed a full Monday-Friday service, and advised the Sub-Committee that all vehicles were compliant with government guidance and were cleaned every 28 days to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Passenger numbers had dropped slightly since the previous meeting and were at around 45% of pre-pandemic levels, but were expected to rise again soon due to both the recent return of many pupils to school as well as the upcoming re-opening of non-essential retail. It was also noted that FirstGroup were currently slightly under their establishment figure, and were in the process of recruiting new bus drivers to address this.
An issue raised at the last meeting regarding unexpected roadworks by Northern Power Grid causing route closures had since been resolved, and FirstGroup were working closely with Northern Power Grid on the laying of new cables. These works had caused some congestion, particularly around the Manningham Lane and Oak Lane area, but once completed the remaining phases of work should have only a minor impact on services.
The Sub-Committee was informed of an on-going problem with vandalism in the Bradford South area. FirstGroup were still working with the local police and the MP for Bradford South to combat this, but a number of measures had already been put in place, including increased patrols by police, as well as drivers being able to report this vandalism under 999 to get an immediate response. It was reported that the district councillors for Tong ward had also met with police to discuss this and had been encouraged by the police response.
Transdev reported that they were increasing service levels from the 11th of April on the 60 Aire route and the 662 shuttle, which would return overall service almost to pre-pandemic levels.
New vehicles had been introduced on the 66 Dalesway service, and the Wharfedale links service had been rebranded. The Sub-Committee was also advised of the measures being undertaken to keep vehicles clean, including nightly fogging and cleaning after every trip.
The Sub-Committee discussed the vandalism issues that had been reported, and questioned how notice of any impact to service was passed on to the public. Members also discussed the shock and stress that such incidents could cause to drivers, and operators provided more information on what support measures were available to drivers in such circumstances. It was also noted that the Combined Authority was responsible for repairing any damage to bus stops, and officers requested that any vandalism be reported immediately to Metroline so that it could be dealt with.
The following questions and comments were raised by the Sub-Committee:
· Capacity issues on buses were highlighted, with buses sometimes unable to pick up new passengers without passing legal limits. Social distancing was a strong factor in this, and it was hoped that these restrictions would be eased as we moved into summer, when demand was expected to increase.
· Members were informed of a large piece of on-going work involving making multi-operator ticketing cheaper and more accessible to young people. This was expected to be introduced toward the end of spring.
· The announcement of a new Northern Powerhouse Rail station in Bradford was noted, which could mean shorter journey times to Leeds and Manchester.
· An issue was raised regarding children receiving detention or taking part in extra-curricular activities at school and potentially missing their bus and then facing difficulties getting home. It was noted that many young people were not well-versed in using public transport and depending on where they lived it could be difficult to find a route home and could involve multiple buses. Combined Authority officers would discuss with education transport colleagues whether a safeguarding issue potentially existed and report back.
Resolved: That the operators be thanked for their updates.