Transport operators in Scotland are planning significant cuts to services as the coronavirus outbreak affects both demand and staffing.
On Wednesday, infrastructure secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that from discussions with officials and representatives from across the transport sector: ‘It is clear that, for the air, rail and bus sectors, cash-flow issues will have a significant impact on service and business viability.’
He added: ‘The rail sector has witnessed a very significant reduction in passenger services in a short time. ScotRail has advised that it has seen about a 30% reduction in demand since Monday.
'Consequently, a reduced level of service from ScotRail is being planned urgently, and details will be provided in the very near future. In addition, Caledonian Sleeper has contingency plans in place and is keeping them under review.
‘Network Rail is working to ensure that it has enough resources in place for signalling centres and electrical control rooms, and it is training additional staff to the required levels of competence in order to improve its level of resilience.’
On Friday, the UK Government announced 'a gradual reduction in train services across the country' from Monday, including Scotland.
As part of the announcement, Mr Matheson said: 'We know that rail provides an important service in moving passengers and goods around the country. However, we will reach a point where travel is reduced to essential journeys only.'
He told MSPs on Wednesday that bus operators ‘are presently considering timetable changes due to the drop in patronage, and in order to manage resilience in their service provision. I have also discussed with [the Confederation of Passenger Transport] some measures that could assist the sector’.
He added: ‘The Office of the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland is expected to issue new guidance shortly in response to operators’ concerns about the need to make changes to registered services at short notice, in the light of the steep fall in demand.’
In relation to ferries, Mr Matheson told MSPs: ‘Plans have been designed to ensure that services can continue, albeit at reduced capacity, when necessary. Officials remain in regular contact with our ferry operators to monitor potential impacts on services.’
On Thursday (19 March) Lothian Buses announced its intention to cut services across Edinburgh and the Lothians from Monday, ‘subject to approval from the Traffic Commissioner, due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation’.
The firm said it ‘will continue to operate vital links and will keep customers up to date with the latest information as it becomes available, with a detailed update on service levels for next week issued [on Friday]’.
Commercial director Nigel Serafini said: ‘These are extraordinary circumstances we are operating in and teams from across our business are working tirelessly to put plans in place as to how best to deal with this fast-changing situation.
‘While the priority of maintaining services is of paramount importance, as the situation develops, we now need to factor in the impact on staffing levels being experienced.’
He added: ‘By introducing a reduced service from Monday, we are aiming to ensure we can continue to provide vital links across the city for those who rely on our services. We would encourage customers to plan their journeys in advance using our mobile app or website and follow our social media channels for updates.’