Last weekend, I caught a bus from Macclesfield to Buxton. It was something that I felt I needed to do, a bridge to cross on the way back towards a sort of normality. Even though I had travelled this way many times before, it also was something of a journey into the unknown.
After all, there were several unanswered questions. My journey was for leisure so would the driver ask me the purpose of my trip? Though the messaging regarding bus services in Cheshire East is much softer than in other areas and certainly more permissive than that from train companies, there was no cause for presumption in favour of travel. Would a Buff be accepted as a face covering? How many other passengers would there be and would social distancing be an issue?
In the end, there was no problem travelling and someone else even declared that they were going for a walk from near the Cat and Fiddle pub to Bollington and that did not stop them travelling. My own plan was similar except that I was going to walk back from Buxton to Macclesfield so that was one fear dismissed. After that, there only ever were three people on the bus at a time and my face covering was enough.
One thing that I did notice was that the two female passengers on board only covered their mouth and not not their nose. Unfortunately, that defeats the exercise since you really need to cover your nose as well though I do accept that some are concerned about their ability to breath. In a photo of passengers boarding a tram in Dublin, there was one man who had done things like those women and that defeats the exercise somewhat. Only children, the disabled and those with breathing problems are exempt anyway.
Thankfully, we all were far apart from each other on my bus ride so there was no reason for getting uptight even if bus windows were closed. After nearly four months without using a bus, that was reassuring and we have to await a more permissive message on train travel as well. That possibly depends on the status of the current public health emergency but Rail magazine has been critical of this stance with one contributor even calling it an act of sabotage for the problem might be getting passengers to return at all.
In parallel with all this, Transport Focus did a survey on how people felt about using public transport in the current circumstances. They have put a preliminary summary on the their blog and the results are interesting so far. Those who have not used public transport are more apprehensive about doing so while regular commuters who are key workers feel safe doing so.
As might be suspected, it is all about your experience during this emergency. Scaring people away could be too easy and getting them to return then becomes much harder but that could help others who only have buses, trams and trains to get around to feel more confident in doing so.
There have been many reductions in service frequency while most choose not to travel using public transport as advised. Service frequencies still are being enhanced though many Cheshire East bus services operate only on a Monday to Saturday or Monday to Friday basis. Sunday travel by bus remains very restricted and it was not extensive around Macclesfield before the introduction of the pandemic restrictions anyway.
Normality remains elusive even now and it is unlikely to return to how things were before in any event. If an added reluctance to use public transport persists, that will cause big changes on its own. Bus use already was declining and commuting by train was under threat so it may be that services become less frequent in time. So far, that is only a thought so we will need to see how things work out in reality. Active travel (walking and cycling) has grown during a dry spring but what could a prolonged period of wet weather, like what came in February, do? Only time can answer such a question and any more that we may have.