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Seven years of improvements to bus service 'wiped out'

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SEVEN years of improvements to the Island’s bus service have been ‘wiped out’ with revenues down £2 million compared to last year, the head of LibertyBus has revealed.

Kevin Hart, director of LibertyBus, in front of an electric double-decker bus the company trialled in 2019 (28921705)

In a blog post on the company’s website, Kevin Hart has responded to a wave of social media criticism aimed at his company and outlined a number of the challenges that it has been facing, including customers becoming aggressive towards staff, redundancies and having to take a number of vehicles off the road to cut costs.

However, Mr Hart added that although emerging out of lockdown was more challenging for the company than going into it, the business was making gradual progress – now being able to accept cash and run fully seated services without having to reduce passenger numbers.

‘I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that exiting from lockdown has been a lot more challenging than it was going in to it. Having to close completely or, in our case, seriously reduce our offering, while devastating, was relatively straightforward. Opening up again safely and trying to provide the same level of service after weeks of little or no revenue, redundancies and reduced working hours for staff, was always going to be hard,’ Mr Hart, said.

‘Since we took over the bus service in 2013 we have been proud of the level of service we have been able to provide, offering more routes, later services and greater frequency year on year. Reaching just over five million passenger journeys in 2019 was testament to what we achieved.

‘The effects of Covid-19 have all but wiped out what we had built over the last seven years and we recognise that no one has felt this more than our customers.’

Around the beginning of lockdown, the company was asked by the government to stop accepting cash.

And according to Mr Hart, although some customers ‘genuinely did not realise’ the new policy, others took advantage of it – with the company letting 2,000 people travel free of charge.

Although the business eventually had to enforce the rule in a stricter manner, he added that his drivers would never refuse carriage to someone they thought may have been vulnerable or in danger.

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‘I know that the feeling amongst some of the social media community was that we should have let those that couldn’t pay travel anyway but at the end of the day we are a business like any other,’ he said.

‘If you go to the supermarket and can’t pay for your items at the till, you wouldn’t be able to take those items with you.’

Finally, Mr Hart also addressed concerns about face masks, saying that although all passengers must wear them, drivers were able to make their own choice about whether they wore one.

‘It is imperative that drivers are comfortable and have nothing impairing their vision while driving. Masks can often steam up glasses or rise up into your line of vision which is just not safe.

‘Our drivers are also at a distance of more than one metre from customers when they’re in the cab, have their window open at all times for ventilation and have limited contact time with other people on board.’

Face masks can now be bought on buses by passengers for 60p.

Ed Taylor

By Ed Taylor
Journalist

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