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CILT Railway Study Forum webinar led by RDG's Jacqueline Starr and Stagecoach's Neil Micklethwaite on the problems facing the rail and bus sectors

Jacqui Starr: India was the start, closing down National Rail Enquiries on the Friday before our lockdown.

Three teams at RDG:
Incident management
Crisis management
Joint executive oversight team led by Paul Plummer and Nick King with Peter Wilkinson and Anthony Smith.

A group has been set up to react to commercial requests, eg stepping down of ticket types and provision of refunds and information. The pace has been relentless, and with conversations stabilised we shall look to recovery, ramping back up. Social media has been communicating support to NHS and don't travel messages.

India could not manage help points, but we were able to avert a suicide. Railway thank you day on 3 April. Three headlines : reduced timetables, Emergency Measures Agreement, "rail to refuge" for 25% increase in domestic abuse. Going to take a long time to recoup returns: there may be only a narrow window of opportunity for fares reform so as to offer products relevant to the new normal, but working from home hasn't diminished RDG's provision of services like seat reservations and Darwin, and we now have heightened awareness of such matters as who is on furlough.

Neil Micklethwaite: bus has three times rail's passengers, but owing to the industry's structure it took longer to put arrangements in place. Half of staff furloughed, but 50% of mileage is carrying 15% of normal passenger numbers. We carry people on low incomes who perform essential services, and unlike rail are having to continue taking cash - will concern about public health prompt accelerating surge of contactless, and shall we have to be overt about meeting cleanliness standards while recognising that people henceforth do not wish to sit so close?

Respond, resilient, recovery and return are Stagecoach's four phases, and we are now in resilient, not knowing what recovery will be like. Light rail also needs a financial package to get through to the new normal.

* Passenger Information During Disruption: customer needs are basic, especially as to trust - it has to be about consistent provision of timely information
* Bus driver risks: facemasks not being issued at this time, people not accustomed to wearing them fiddle and so touch their faces, and cash has to be handled notwithstanding uplift in contactless
* Modal split: taxis cannot provide social distancing, will people want to go by car? Difficult to predict, must be flexible.
* Car-free roads: bus is definitely benefiting.
* Williams Review: reviewing plans for how EMA might transition.
* Railfreight has challenges with track access. Happy to set up another session specifically on freight.
* Coordination between rival bus operators : competition law applies, but they have been acting sensibly.
* Accessibility: a couple of cases reported in the media on handling of disabled passengers with regard to social distancing.
* Amazing small acts by individuals to support their local community through pulling together to offer demand-responsive transport. Some rail staff trying to maintain services were abused by rude customers.
* NRE now fully operational with Indian staff working from home. RDG will consider future location post-Covid.
* EMAs take us closer to post-Williams.
* We don't know when we shall ramp up services, this is an opportunity to consider where rail should find itself in the context of the new normal, but the key will be future investment levels.
* Eurostar refunds will be governed by European agreements.
* Bus industry worked with Traffic Commissioners to effect temporary timetable changes giving local authorities two or three days - 24 hours in Scotland - to comment or silence would be taken as assent.
* We must take the window of opportunity provided by recovery to win our passengers back.

Notes by John Yellowlees


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