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Oxford Bus Company COVID-19 special

I’m writing to you during these unprecedented times to let you know that our three main priorities are to safeguard the health & wellbeing of our colleagues and customers; to play our role in society during these challenging times; and to safeguard the future of our company.

It is a very tough time for everyone currently. That’s why, it’s more important than ever that we all work together and support each other as best we can. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you feel we can support you.

Best wishes, stay safe and keep an eye on our websites for the latest updates.
Phil Southall, Managing Director.

Safeguarding the health & wellbeing of our colleagues and customers

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented times for us as a business and as a society. The situation is fast-moving and asks us to find suitable answers. Our top priority is to do everything we can to keep our colleagues and customers safe during this worrying period. That’s why we have taken several measures to fight the spread of the virus.

We’ve initiated an enhanced cleaning process. Each day, when a vehicle finishes service, it is considered off the road until all touch points have been cleaned and checked using special chemicals. This ensures that cleaning is done to the appropriate standard across the fleet.

Temporary perspex screens have been added to all vehicles to give additional protection to driving colleagues. These are cleaned nightly with a chemical that should prevent the virus settling on the screen for up to 72 hours.

Hand sanitiser and gloves are available in each depot, and individual bottles were issued to all driving colleagues who remain at work.

We cordoned off seats closest to the driver, and put up both physical and digital notices on our vehicles, as well as adding taped lines to the floor, to help to explain and enforce “social distancing” rules and etiquette on our vehicles.

From 4th April, we implemented an increased contactless payments limit of £45, along with the ability to top up key cards on the bus with a contactless card, in a bid to help further encourage customers not to use cash unless absolutely necessary.

Large signs were put up on all vehicles emphasising this change and we are seeing the level of cash taken on board continuing to gradually reduce as a result.

Many office-based employees have been allowed to work from home, where possible for some or all of their week, where their role allows this.

With all Oxford Travel Shops now closed until further notice, we’ve temporarily introduced the ability for customers to top up all key card tickets up to four weeks in duration
on all Thames Travel and Oxford Bus Company buses. We’ll be monitoring the impact of this over the coming weeks and deciding whether this is something we can continue after the pandemic restrictions ease.

Playing our role in society during these challenging times

Our customer numbers have reduced by around 90% since the Coronavirus crisis began, and this has caused considerable financial stress for the business through the resulting sudden and unexpected reduction in our revenue.

We’ve had to take swift action to reduce costs where we could in response to this, while at the same time ensuring that we continued to maintain an acceptable service level for those who need to continue to make essential journeys with us.

This has meant several rounds of service reductions carried out over a very short space of time across all parts of our business.

Our City Sightseeing Oxford service, and our express coach services between Oxford and Gatwick Airport and High Wycombe / Beaconsfield and Heathrow Airport have now been temporarily suspended.

However, we are continuing to operate the airline coach service between Oxford and Heathrow, and have added an additional stop on this service at High Wycombe Coachway to ensure we continue to provide as much connectivity as we can for the key workers at the airport who need to continue to use the service.

The services we operate under contract to Oxford Brookes University and National Express have also been suspended at the request of our contract partners, who face significant financial challenges of their own, and we’ve had to work with them and several other contract partners to help them deliver much needed savings as quickly as possible.

However, even at our current levels of demand, we’re still responsible for fulfilling many thousands of journeys each day for our customers. Those who are travelling with us at the moment need our services more than ever, to meet their essential travel needs.

With so many service changes taking place, sometimes we can get it wrong. In recognition of that, we’ve been asking key workers to let us know via social media and our websites whether there are journeys that they need to make which we aren’t covering with our emergency schedules. We’ve had a great response to this and havmade several changes as a result to bring back additional journeys which key workers have asked for.

These have included reintroducing the link between Wytham and the JR Hospital on Thames Travel ST2 service, adding an additional early morning journey from Watlington to Oxford on Thames Travel 11 service, and adding two extra early morning round trips to Wycombe General Hospital on Carousel 8 Park&Ride Cressex Connect service. We’ve also added a replacement U1 service between Harcourt Hill and Oxford City Centre to ensure those living in the Westminster Way area of Botley can continue to get around while the BROOKESbus service is suspended.

We’re keeping our customers informed regarding all service changes via a special COVID-19 web pages, regular social media updates, adverts on board vehicles with digital screens and via posters on main bus stops.

We’ve also managed to agree with all local authorities in our operating area that concessionary passes can be accepted for travel at all times of the day, while COVID-19 movement restrictions are in place. This should be really helpful for pass holders, particularly for those looking to access shops which have introduced “early shopping hours” for vulnerable people, carers or key workers.

In Oxford City, we’ve also relaxed restrictions on Stagecoach “single operator” tickets and are accepting these on all our services across Oxford SmartZone until further notice. So those that need to get moving can catch the first bus that comes along whilst services are operating at reduced frequencies.

Customers have been very appreciative of the efforts we’ve been making and below are just some of the positive messages we’ve received over the past few weeks

“I am a key worker in the NHS and work at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre Oxford. I would like to say thank you so much for providing a service in these bizarre times.”

“Please pass on my thanks to everyone working on keeping the buses running…. Thanks to you all I can still get to work at the Children’s Hospital. All the bus drivers are risking their own health right now, and I’m very grateful for them still turning up and smiling.”

“Thank you so much for your help in reinstating the ST2 service to Wytham – this is amazing news!” Key worker travelling between Wytham and the JR Hospital

Safeguarding the future of the Company

COVID-19 has had a huge financial impact on our Company, and we estimate has cost us around £1.5m in March 2020 alone. With losses on that scale, we’ve had to act quickly to reduce costs. While the Company’s situation remains serious, our expected financial losses as a
result of COVID-19 are now expected to be around half what we feared they would be when the crisis began, despite our passenger numbers remaining around 90% lower than we
would normally expect them to be.

Part of the reason for this is the fact that more than 460 colleagues have volunteered to go onto furlough, allowing us to claim support towards payment of their wages through the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Details of the scheme have been gradually
emerging over the past few weeks, and we are hoping to receive our first payment from the scheme by early May. It’s been a big effort to work through such a big change with so many colleagues in such a short space of time, and we’ve been working together with the trade union to make sure we can answer everyone’s questions and that we treat all our colleagues fairly and respectfully.

We’ve also managed to agree on some positive steps with our local authority partners to help safeguard some of our contracts and concessionary fares income, and had some positive news from the Department for Transpor with the announcement of a new “Coronavirus Bus Services Support Grant” scheme on 6th April. This scheme has been designed to help bus operators who are continuing to provide socially necessary services during the Coronavirus crisis and provides us with some additional financial support to continue to run these services. We’ve signed up to the scheme for Oxford Bus Company, Thames Travel and Carousel and hope to receive our first payment from this before the end of April.