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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Farefree Travel ?

Transport for London this week has announced no fares will be taken on London's bus network. Jointly TfL has also directed that bus passengers must only use the centre entrance of vehicles. Loading from the front and paying fares by card or cash to the driver is now forbidden as a measure to avoid infection of bus drivers through transmission involving fare payments and proximity to drivers when boarding. The alarming number of deaths by LT staff, particularly bus drivers, has caused these measures to be put in place with immediate effect.

Blackpool's bus fleet uses only front entrance and exit designs. The tram fleet has drivers enclosed in their cabs with no need for interaction with passengers. However fare collection has to be dealt with through roving conductors with usually two per vehicle. A recent step to withdraw the tram service entirely and direct would be travellers on to the parallel Number 1 Bus Service has managed at least to eliminate the need for conductors. Similarly the 'Heritage Tour' service with the same issue of manual fare collection is unlikely to reappear whilst Government and NHS guidelines are adhered to.

Whether Blackpool's Transport company will go as far as totally eliminating fare collection on buses and trams is unlikely, although the precedent in London initiated this week sets a marker in respect of putting safety of staff first and foremost. As far as I am aware no bus driver here has died as a result of contracting the corona virus but clearly this possibility exists and has to be an issue of high concern. Eliminating seated passengers in immediate proximity to drivers by cordoning off seats immediately behind the driver's cab and next to the front entrance doors is one important safeguard. Fare transactions including card usage for the moment is provided for but the ease of viral transmission on all manner of surfaces - and its longevity is a further risk factor for all operators to deal with.

Front entrance and exit only on Blackpool buses is the norm. A 2006 example in heritage cream and green. Image John Woodman

Non essential travel, especially by public transport, carries its own level of risk which no doubt impacts on holiday excursions and Blackpool's unique 'Ride the Lights' and heritage tram tours. An extended continuance of the present 'Lock Down' restrictions may in fact lead to cancellation of this year's Illuminations but so far at least the Council is ploughing ahead with preparation for the 2020 display.

Irrespective of the decision finally taken ridership on public transport has dropped significantly on the Fylde coast witness the near empty buses traversing their customary routes. Timetable frequencies have been slashed as a consequence, at least allowing major reduction in operating expense by BTS overall. The town is reliant to very large degree on seasonal visitors and forecast as high on the list of localities undergoing worst case depression in England (number 5 according to one think tank study published this week). Whether we get to see our trams running again in 2020 is an open question.

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