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15 April 2020
The coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on the transport sector and mobility. Google’s 29 March Community Mobility Report for the UK, part of a series to help governments understand the public response to social distancing guidelines, suggests a 75% reduction in visits and length of stay at UK transit stations. Results for Welsh local authorities also suggest significant reductions, including: 79% in Cardiff; 69% in Ceredigion; 67% in Swansea; and 63% in Anglesey.
This post sets out some of the key actions taken by the UK and Welsh governments in response to the pandemic.
Status of transport workers
Transport is critical to supply chains and to ensuring key workers can travel to work. Consequently, “transport workers” are included among the key workers identified by the Welsh Government.
Given that transport workers often operate in close proximity to the public, the UK Government has also issued guidance for staff in the transport sector.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued specific coronavirus related travel advice, alongside country specific advice. In general, it advises against all but essential travel, and that those from the UK travelling abroad return now.
On 24 March, the Foreign Secretary issued a statement on support for British people abroad, including an outline of action being taken in relation to specific countries to support repatriation.
Subsequently, on 30 March the FCO announced a partnership with airlines to repatriate stranded travellers. Tourists should first explore commercial options, before checking FCO travel advice and monitoring consular social media and email updates. The UK Government has pledged £75m for additional repatriation charters. “As a last resort”, the FCO will offer travellers an emergency loan. On 14 April it issued guidance on how to apply for emergency loans for return flights.
An update from the FCO on 4 April announced charter flights from Bolivia, Ecuador, Philippines and India to repatriate British travellers, and that 10 new airlines had joined the scheme. It also announced that the FCO has extended its advice against overseas travel “for an indefinite period”. On 10 April the FCO announced an additional 12 charter flights from India. Guidance has also been issued for British people travelling abroad who are unable to travel back to the UK due to coronavirus restrictions.
The UK Civil Aviation Agency has published information on the virus for passengers and holiday makers, including advice on their rights in the event of delay or cancellation, along with information for the aviation industry itself.
The UK Government issued a press release on 18 March indicating that it was working on a package of measures to support the aviation industry. However, while the UK Government announced that it had supported moves by EUROCONTROL, the body which manages air navigation charges across Europe, to defer payment of those charges, no UK Government announcement of industry-wide support has followed to date.
On 31 March the Airport Operators Association (AOA) issued a news release calling for action and suggesting the UK response “is falling behind other economies in supporting its aviation industry”. On 14 April the AOA, Airlines UK and ADS, a trade body for the UK Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space sectors, issued a joint call to extend business support schemes.
On 31 March, the Welsh Government issued a written statement announcing the suspension the Cardiff-Anglesey Air Service, and promising further information on the position of Welsh Government owned Cardiff Airport. This followed on 3 April when it announced short-term funding for the Airport, and called on the UK Government to “urgently” change its approach to financial support to regional airports.
Cardiff Airport has published coronavirus advice indicating that all passenger flights from Cardiff Airport are suspended.
Bus and rail transport
On 23 March the UK Department for Transport announced emergency measures for the rail franchises it oversees. In Wales, these apply to the Great Western Railways (GWR), CrossCountry, and Avanti West Coast franchises. It also announced an agreement on refund arrangements for advanced and season ticket holders. This was followed on 30 March by the announcement of a three year direct award contract with GWR. In the short term, this will run concurrently with the “Emergency Measures Agreements” announced on 23 March.
On 29 March, a Welsh Government news release announced a package of support for the Welsh bus industry, and additional support for the Transport for Wales rail franchise which is its responsibility. Further detail followed in a 31 March written statement. This support comprised total support of £69m over the next few months. The Minister also said he had written to the Welsh Local Government Association recommending that local authorities continue to pay 75% of the contract value for school and other contracted local passenger services to help stabilise the sector.
In response, on 30 March bus and coach industry trade body the Confederation of Passenger Transport Cymru issued a news release welcoming the funding but stating that “additional support will be required [by operators] to cover their costs to provide the service levels envisaged by the Welsh Government”.
Subsequently, on 3 April the UK Government announced its own support package of nearly £400m for bus services in England.
Both governments have made clear that public transport services should only be used by key workers.
Road transport and the freight sector
The UK Government has announced a wide range of measures related to non-devolved aspects of road transport. This section sets out some of the key steps taken with further details of other actions taken available on the UK Government website.
On 17 March, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), a UK Government Agency, announced that driving theory tests are suspended for one month, and driving tests for up to three months. However, tests are available for critical workers.
On 20 March, the DVSA issued guidance exempting lorries, buses and trailers from the need for an MOT for three months from 21 March.
On 25 March, a six month exemption from MOT testing was announced for cars, motorcycles and vans which have tests due from 30 March – though it highlighted that vehicles must be kept in a roadworthy condition and that garages remain open. On the same day the DVSA issued guidance stressingthat tests are still required for these vehicles where the MOT expires on or before 29 March, though provision is made for those self-isolating and drivers who are “shielding”.
Steps have also been taken in relation to regulation of freight, bus and coach operations.
On 17 March, the Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain, who are responsible for licensing and regulation of HGV, bus and coach sectors and local bus service registration, published statutory contingency and emergency planning guidance. This seeks to implement flexible working practices and a “proportionate approach” to their work.
The same day the UK Government issued guidance for the freight transport industry on international travel. It highlights that international and domestic freight transport by any mode is classified as an essential activity in the context of its travel advice.
On 20 March, the UK Department for Transport and DVSA issued guidance on the relaxation of drivers’ hours rules for the carriage of goods by road between 23 March and 21 April. These automatically apply in “emergency situations” – such as providing goods or services to protect public health. Otherwise, the usual drivers’ hours rules must be complied with.
On 31 March, the DVSA issued guidance implementing temporary changes to allow bus and lorry drivers who cannot complete compulsory Driver Certificate of Professional Competence training to continue to drive.
Alongside government guidance, the Road Haulage Association is maintaining coronavirus update pages with key information for the road freight sector. The Freight Transport Association, which represents all freight modes, has also published online resources.
Article by Andrew Minnis, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales
We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.
You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.