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Coronavirus – UK: First Bus brings in changes including new ticket payment rules

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BRISTOL — Social distancing measures were trialled on the number 24 buses in Bristol.

Passengers travelling on First Bus services have been advised of changes including new preferences on payment and a “ground-breaking counting facility”.

Stricter measures have been rolled out this week by First West of England to protect passengers and bus drivers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Although people are still being discouraged from going on public transport, those who rely on it are being asked to adhere to safety precautions.

In a statement this afternoon (Wednesday), First said it had installed a “ground-breaking passenger counting facility” to the drivers’ ticket machines, which advises them when their bus is at safe capacity and when to turn on the ‘sorry bus full’ display.

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Social distancing measures will restrict access to many seats and buses will only be operating at less than 25 per cent of their normal capacity, the statement added.

Passengers are now being advised to wear face coverings, in line with the government guidance on transport, and have been advised of the safest way to purchase tickets.

They have been asked to avoid using cash and to use exact change if they are unable to pay any other way.

The preferred payment method is contactless or mobile tickets via the phone app, so drivers do not have to handle coins and cash that has been touched by others.

One Bristol bus user claimed via Twitter that they saw drivers “refuse cash completely” last week, when travelling on the Number 4 route from Cribbs Causeway.

First responded to say they would raise this with the depot, and that if such refusal happened again it should be reported via its website.

The bus company has already confirmed the tragic death of two Bristol drivers who died of coronavirus, and says the new measures are in place to protect colleagues.

As well as the new advice regarding ticket payment, First has warned bus users to expect to have to wait to board as they might be refused travel to ensure social distancing.

Some seats have been labelled as out-of-bounds, as per the trial on the Number 24, to make sure that people sit further away from each other.

Advice tweeted yesterday (Tuesday) said: “If you have no alternative to taking a bus, be prepared to wait, as buses may be full even if they appear to have capacity.”

Responding to this, Lu Watkins said the Number 4 was becoming busier and “an hourly service isn’t going to work for much longer with the distance seating”.

Lu added: “We’ve been in lockdown for long enough but it’s only now that buses have seats cordoned off!

“Most passengers have been sensible enough to seat apart (where possible) – hourly buses and the new seating will mean stranded passengers with long waits!”

Another passenger who tweeted yesterday [Tuesday] told First: “[I’m] very concerned re the email regarding your services having removed services completely pared some to the bone now to find that a bus may go past you due to restrictions?

“How is this acceptable for key workers [whose] hours haven’t changed?”

First responded: “We are continuously monitoring the demand and strive to meet the demand wherever possible.”

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In today’s statement, First West of England’s managing director James Freeman said: “We expect there will be occasions when customers may not be able to board their intended journey due to capacity levels being reached.

“We are therefore advising those who cannot avoid public transport to check their journey details in advance, avoid busier periods and allow extra time for their journey as they may need to wait if their bus is full when it arrives.

“We would ask for people’s patience during these challenging times as lockdown restrictions are lifted, as we adapt our service provision around the government’s guidance. Together we can all play a crucial role in getting the region back on its feet again.”

He said the company was “almost ready” to start increasing the number of services in operation and thanked staff for their “tremendous effort” during lockdown.

West of England mayor Tim Bowles urged people to “think carefully” about whether or not they really need to travel on public transport.

He said: “We all need to continue to play our part in helping to reduce the potential strain on public transport as we begin to carefully get the region moving again.

“Buses will not be able to carry as many people as usual because of the steps needed to keep passengers and staff safe.”

He said the buses should be used only by people who have “no other option”.

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