New limits coming in for passengers on buses across Ipswich and Suffolk

First Eastern Counties Buses will only carry a quarter of capacity from Monday - but recently they h

First Eastern Counties Buses will only carry a quarter of capacity from Monday - but recently they have been travelling almost empty. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

First Eastern Counties will only allow a quarter of the seats on their vehicles to occupied if demand rises as the lockdown eases – and could end up leaving passengers waiting at bus stops if services are full.

The company has said that, from next Monday, the capacity of buses will be reduced by more than 75%. Passengers who are able to board will be directed to use seats at an “appropriate distance” from each other, according to First.

At present, the number of passengers using buses in the region is much lower than normal and both First Eastern Counties and Ipswich Buses are operating vehicles that are largely empty for essential workers only.

But as more people start to travel to work, demand is expected to increase – even though the government and industry bosses are urging potential passengers to only use public transport if there is no other way to get to work or to vital appointments.

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Dave Lynch, chief information officer of parent company FirstGroup, said: “Since the government’s announcements last week, we have been working round the clock to find ways to innovate so that on our buses we can ensure safe, socially distanced space for our passengers.

“We are immensely proud that we have been able to develop this new system so quickly. We fully support the government’s guidelines and urge passengers to only travel if their journey is essential.”

Drivers will count passengers using a device added to their ticket machine, developed by Ticketer.

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John Clarfelt, the company’s chief executive, said the “groundbreaking technology” will be “vital for drivers” as demand for public transport increases over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Ipswich Buses is urging passengers to wear face coverings – not surgical facemasks – in case social distancing is not possible on their journey. It is publicising the government and industry advice that such coverings should be used in indoor situations like shops and on public transport where it might not always be possible to stay two metres away from everyone else.

The advice from bus companies comes after rail companies across the country, including Greater Anglia, introduced social distancing markings for passengers who have to use trains to get to work or for other essential trips.

Steve Bryce General Manager at Ipswich buses said: “Although there are currently no clear guidelines from the authorities about how many people should be allowed on each type of bus we are reviewing our passenger loadings on a daily basis and have already reacted by allocating larger buses to the busiest routes.

“We have also already made changes to our schedules to allow double deckers to be used on the majority of our town services from June 1 so customers have more space to social distance effectively as bus loadings increase.

“We are providing our staff and customers with clear guidance about social distancing and what measures to take if this isn’t possible for any reason, as well as other measures they can take to keep themselves and others safe including using contactless or M-ticket payments instead of cash, letting other people of the bus before they board, keeping windows open for improved ventilation, and wearing a face covering.

“In addition to issuing our staff with PPE and carrying out enhanced cleaning on our vehicles we have also started a programme to fit every vehicle in our fleet with a hand sanitiser dispenser for our customers to use and give them some confidence in these difficult times, and provided the orders for equipment arrive on time this programme will be complete by mid-June.”

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