Calls to relax two-metre social distancing rule on public transport to boost passenger numbers

Ministers will today (May 19) be challenged to relax the two-metre social distancing rule on trains and buses in order to boost passenger numbers on public transport and stop a surge in post-pandemic car travel.

The call comes from Campaign for Better Transport as Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, prepares to publish the Government’s long-awaited rail reforms tomorrow (May 20).

These are expected to see a new body – independent from the Department for Transport – effectively manage rail services and the infrastructure. It is likely that Network Rail will be merged into the new organisation.

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More flexible rail season tickets are also due to be announced as the Government responds to the increase in home working following the Covid pandemic.

The Campaign for Better Transport is calling on ministers to relax the two-metre rule on public transport

But the pressure group believes immediate action is needed to promote public transport to counter the “car-led recovery” being witnessed across Yorkshire and the rest of the country as it launches its biggest ever campaign in an attempt to force Mr Shapps to rethink his priorities.

Its policy adviser is Norman Baker, a former Lib Dem MP and a transport minister during the 2010-15 coalition government who says the slump in passenger numbers on trans and buses risks becoming counter-productive to the environment and economy.

Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, he says Ministers need “to correct the misleading if unintentional impression that has been created by the Government’s own messaging that public transport is inherently, perhaps even uniquely unsafe”.

“It isn’t, and they need to say so. Almost everybody on a bus or train feels perfectly safe, according to Transport Focus research, whereas around half of those who are not on board say they would not feel safe. These are the same people who jostle and bump into each other in the supermarket without any apparent concern,” maintains Mr Baker.

“The Cabinet Office review into social distancing must be published, with a recognition that an indefinite continuation of the two-metre rule is incompatible with a return to pre-Covid passenger numbers and incompatible with any sort of financial self-sufficiency for public transport.”

Mr Baker says the Government’s indifference towards public transport is incompatible with its commitments to the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow later this year.

“Let’s not forget that around 2,000 people a year die on our roads. The number who die in train accidents is happily almost zero,” he added. “It is illogical to argue for perfect safety in buses and trains while letting car travel let rip.”