First Potteries cuts services again as only essential travel allowed in lockdown 3


Stoke-on-Trent’s main bus operator has reduced service levels again in response to the third national lockdown.

First Potteries has cut the frequency of most weekday and Saturday services, after seeing passenger numbers plummet to around 25 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels this month.

The timetable changes, which came into effect on Sunday, will typically see services running every 15 minutes, instead of every 10 minutes.

Around 25 First Potteries drivers have been furloughed as a result of the service reduction.

Since the first lockdown bus companies across the country have been able to cope with a huge reduction in income thanks to government funding.

Nigel Eggleton, managing director of First Potteries, says operators have to therefore maintain services at a level set by the Department for Transport.

He said: “Around three weeks ago the DfT said to keep service levels at 100 per cent during the lockdown. But then 10 days ago they came back and told us to reduce it to somewhere in the region of 70 to 80 per cent. I think one of the reasons for this is that the DfT have been under pressure from the Treasury. For us this has meant changing the timetable back to how it was at the end of June. It was a case of taking that plan off the shelf.

“Most services will now be running on a reduced frequency – every 15 minutes rather than every 10 minutes.”

Mr Eggleton said that bus operators will continue to be reliant on central government to make it through the rest of the pandemic.

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During the first lockdown, First Potteries saw passenger numbers fall as low as 12 per cent. While they recovered to around 50 per cent in the summer, social distancing measures meant the capacity of buses was severely reduced.

But Mr Eggleton says he is confident that the bus industry will be able to bounce back, especially in Stoke-on-Trent, which was recently awarded £29 million of Transforming Cities funding to boost public transport.

He added: “The government funding takes us up to a break even position, and we are grateful for that support. We know that eventually the taps will be turned off though.

Social distancing measures on a First Potteries bus

“We don’t know what things will be like after the pandemic is over – whether people will continue to work from home, or whether retail will recover. It may be that passenger numbers will only get back up to 80 per cent.

“But I think buses have a good long-term future, largely due to the concerns over the environment. I suspect that when the history of public transport is written, the last 12 months will just be seen as a minor setback.”

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Mr Eggleton said he expected to see the first of the Transforming Cities improvements – the installation of tap-on/tap-off payment readers on 200 buses – to begin this summer.

First Potteries’ revised timetables can be found here.





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