Social-distancing rules on the number of passengers allowed on buses are being eased as more people are travelling and the coronavirus pandemic comes under control.
Current rules restrict buses to carrying only 40-45% of their authorised capacity, but with passenger numbers in England having recovered to 60% of pre-Covid levels last week, concern was mounting over how services would cope as more journeys were made after the lifting of more restrictions on 17 May.
Now, bus industry trade journal "Route One" reports that following what is described as a "risk-based case" presented the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), the government is to relax distancing rules on busy journeys.
From 17 May, new guidance will allow all forward-facing seats on buses to be occupied by passengers when buses are busy. Rear and sideways facing seats will remain out of use, but in most cases this will allow buses to use 90%+ of their available seating. It is not clear whether standing passengers will be permitted.
On less busy trips, passengers will still be expected to follow social-distancing guidelines that require one of each pair of seats to be left vacant, meaning that two passengers not travelling together should only occupy a double seat when no free single seats are available. (In practice, this has been standard "bus etiquette" amongst regular users for a long time).
CPT says that the 17 May change takes into account the low prevalence of COVID-19, the rapid rollout of the vaccination programme and a greater knowledge of on-bus ventilation. There has also been little, if any, evidence of virus transmission on public transport since the pandemic appeared.
The measure is welcome in Lancaster, where the return of face-to-face teaching at the city's universities will mean more students travelling. It will also be useful for passengers using the new Summer Sunday DalesBus services to Malham and Richmond where the chance of being left behind by a bus running only once a week might have otherwise put them off travelling!