NHS workers will be able to travel on buses for free in Wales as part of a £69m Welsh Government public transport hardship fund

The fund, announced today by Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales is to create “a viable public transport network” so that Wales can “reach the other side of the current COVID-19 pandemic”.

It comes as bus companies, rail providers and community transport operators are facing “significant and unprecedented” challenges.

Travel demand has plummeted since the government ordered everyone to stay at home unless in specific circumstances.

And Mr Skates said only key workers - and those who do not have access to a car to get essential supplies - should use public transport from now on.

But to ensure that public transport remains operational for key workers and those without a car needing essential food and medical supplies, the Welsh Government has released funding.

A £40m support package to maintain rail journeys and safeguard the “future of rail service operations in Wales and the Borders” has been announced.

“We are working closely with our partners in TfW and TfW Rail Services on the details of the mechanism, which I expect to evolve further over the coming weeks,” Mr Skates added.

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Further details on the specifics of the package will be made soon.

“Secondly, the Coronavirus pandemic has created uncertainty and challenge across all industries and sectors and the bus industry is no exception.

A £29m injection over the next three months will be provided to bus industry.

South Wales Argus:

(Ken Skates said the public transport industry faced "unprecedented" challenges.)

This will be delivered through grants administered by local authorities and paid monthly up-front until a more “sustainable solution” is put in place.

NAT Group Managing Director, Adam Keen, has responded to the announcement of a hardship fund set up to support bus companies through the COVID-19 crisis. Adam said: “The effects of Covid-19 have hit the bus industry very hard indeed, with drops of around 90% in passenger numbers being experienced by many operators.

"Many businesses have significant fixed costs and whilst the furloughing scheme assists with wages, there are many other costs associated with running a bus company which cannot simply be ‘parked’ until business restarts. If bus operators are to come out of this the other side in a position of being able to continue, financial support from Welsh Government is absolutely vital.”  

In return for the funding, all operators have to commit to the following for the next three months:

• Scheduled services will operate a foundation timetable (contracts to be agreed with Local Authorities), sufficient to allow key workers to get to work and those without a car to get to shops for essential food and medical supplies

• No bus will carry more than 50% of its maximum capacity

• To match the offer announced on our train services, all NHS workers who use a scheduled bus service will travel free of charge

Operators will have to provide the Welsh Government and Local Authorities with a weekly report showing how their fleets have met the obligations.

This includes: What routes have been run, what times it arrived at each stop, how many passengers alighted, what the fare each passenger paid.

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“I hope that this will give operators some short-term resilience to continue to deliver services, pay employees and sub-contractors, while we work with them to develop the comprehensive package of measures, called for by the scale of the crisis, to secure an efficient, sustainable, and robust bus network," Mr Skates added.

“In addition, during this period when we are asking people to travel only for essential purposes, we will be temporarily withdrawing the offer of free weekend travel on the Traws Cymru network, and allowing all NHS staff to travel from free on the TrawsCymru network throughout the week from Monday. “

Mr Skates added that he will say “more about Cardiff Airport in the next few days”.

“The impact of COVID-19 on airports and the aviation industry has been hugely significant. The industry has already seen the failure of Thomas Cook and Flybe, and is now facing a reduction in flying of virtually 100% across all UK airports.

“The whole sector is affected as airlines and passengers follow our and UK Government advice not to travel.”

Mr Skates added that the Cardiff-Anglesey Public Service Obligation air service has been suspended.