Smart Transport

DfT questioned by Transport Committee over response to COVID-19

Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State, DfT

The Department for Transport (DfT) has said it is confident there is enough funding to keep bus operators running and it has stood firm in its decision not to recommend the use of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State, DfT and Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the DfT were both quizzed by MPs on the House of Commons Transport Committee today.

Heaton-Harris opened up the meeting to provide an update on how transport numbers have dropped since the UK lockdown.

He said UK air traffic is down 92% on the equivalent day in 2019, domestic rail is down 95%, Eurostar journeys are down 99%, road traffic volume is down 71% and the strategic road network has traffic volume down 83% compared with the first week of February 2020.

Buses and coach passenger volumes (excluding London) are down 88% and services are down 54% compared to pre-lockdown.

TfL road network volume is down 63% and the total number of individuals travelling is down 88% in the capital.

Heaton-Harris said: “The public is very much taking head of the messages given and keeping the transport networks open to key workers and freight movements.”

Heaton-Harris said he thinks the reductions are sufficient to help limit the spread of COVID-19, while continuing to keep vital transport services operational.

DfT not currently recommending PPE

The Transport Committee questioned why those that are dealing with the public in the transport sector are not getting personal protection equipment (PPE).

Baroness Vere said that despite calls for PPE, the DfT’s current guidance is not to recommend they are used at this time, unless guidance from Public Health England (PHE) changes.

She said: “It is the view that there is little evidence to support that there is widespread benefit to wearing facemasks outside of clinical and care settings.

“That is because those wearing them need to know how to put them on correctly, they need to be changed frequently and they need to be disposed of safely. 

“Sometimes facemasks can cause additional risk by those that don’t know how to use them properly. We are not recommending the use of facemasks at the moment.”

However, just hours after the meeting there was a call from the Department of Health and Social Care to those in the transport industry to assess the need for PPE.

It is calling on submissions from the transport sector to fill out its data request form and to then email it to [email protected] before 4.30pm April 8.

The submissions from transport operators will be used to inform supply priorities, but there was also a caveat that the data can’t guarantee that demand identified for the transport sector for PPEs will be met as a result of this data gathering.

Will the bus support package be enough?

The Transport Committee questioned whether the recently announced £400m support package for bus operators will be enough to maintain services.

Baroness Vere said the DfT is collecting data from local authorities and operators on passenger numbers, usage and frequencies so the level of available services can be tracked.

She said: “We’re confident there is enough additional funding. We came up with the number in close consultation with the bus operators themselves.”

The DfT also confirmed it is currently looking at each of the UK’s seven tram and light rail systems individually and getting data back to understand how they can be supported financially too.

Heaton-Harris also said the DfT is in discussions with Transport for London specifically about providing additional funding in order to continue to provide transport for key workers in the capital.

The session is available to watch in full on parliament.tv.

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