We need clear guidance from the Government to keep bus drivers safe from Covid-19
There is rightly concern related to the provision of PPE, and which approach provides the best protection, writes Jim McMahon MP. | PA Images
Our drivers are keeping the country going in extremely difficult circumstances, and they will be central to our economic recovery.
Across the country people are shocked and saddened by increasing reports of bus drivers losing their lives to Covid-19. Our thoughts are with the families of these brave professionals. Our drivers are keeping the country going in extremely difficult circumstances, and they will be central to our economic recovery.
Labour is clear that we appreciate it’s a tremendously difficult time for our country so it’s right that we take a constructive approach to challenging the Government. I do, though, feel after weeks of this situation escalating, that it’s right that we urge the Government for clarity on a number of concerns that bus drivers have raised with us.
There is a mix of overlapping and at times contradictory scientific advice and guidance in circulation. While this is understandable during an unprecedented time, the job of Government should surely be to cut through that noise and give those that need it clear, unified and constant guidance and direction.
The fact that different bus operators have diverging views on the best approach is confusing matters further. I’m clear that this can only be achieved with guidance for all transport operators which is then published and publicised by the Government.
In addition there is rightly concern related to the provision of PPE, and which approach provides the best protection, the risk in transmission through cash handling, and how passengers can be managed as the lock down is lifted and patronage increases.
I believe such clear guidance should include but not limited to:
Whether drivers should be handling cash, or should there now be a total ban on using cash on buses, if the latter is supported then that can only be realistically achieved by the government covering all revenue risk, in the same way it has with train operators.
Whether drivers should be issued with gloves, masks, and other PPE items as standard, what specification this PPE should be and, if there isn’t sufficient PPE, whether buses should still run.
Whether physical barriers (ie. screens) should be in place for all operating buses, and if the government will provide specification on the most effective installation.
How frequently buses should be cleaned and to what standard this cleaning should be, including routine deep cleaning.
Finally, it does appear that the fragmentation of the bus market has, in part, caused the lack of clear guidance and advice from being passed both from Government to drivers but also from drivers up to the Department for Transport. That’s why I support calls from our trade union representatives that a national operator’s forum with Government, operators and unions with driver and other bus workers’ representatives would greatly help in understanding the frontline issues, varying approaches, and practical solutions.
Jim McMahon is the Labour MP for Olham West and Royton and shadow secretary of state for transport.