The continued operation of the public transport sector is important and, from a very early stage in the Covid-19 crisis, public transport was designated by Government as among the essential services that could continue throughout the emergency. Guided by public health advice, measures have been introduced across the system to enable the continued operation of services during the pandemic, including enhanced cleaning regimes and appropriate social distancing measures across the network.
With the commencement of Phase 3 of the Government's Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business on 29 June 2020, changes to the existing public transport social distancing restrictions were agreed, allowing a move from 2-metre social distancing to utilising 50% of the passenger-carrying capacity of bus and rail fleet. Alongside this change, new Regulations were introduced making mandatory the wearing of face coverings on public transport, with some limited exceptions. This has helped to underpin public transport services provided by both public and commercial licensed operators during these unprecedented times, with a view to safeguarding public transport capacity.
There is continued strong messaging that public transport capacity remains restricted and therefore should only be used for essential travel, with only those who have to travel at peak times doing so and encouraging staggered retail and office opening hours. People are being encouraged to walk or cycle where practical, and organisations are encouraged to continue to facilitate working from home.
The Government is also spending considerable additional Exchequer funds on the public transport sector in order to support the continued operation of necessary services, despite the reduced demand and the restricted capacity owing to the Covid-19 situation. The Exchequer is now funding the PSO (public service obligation) regime far in excess of the allocation that had been provided under Budget 2020. In addition, the Government introduced a new temporary funding support for the non-PSO (licensed, commercial) bus sector in respect of its continuation of necessary bus services.
The Government's newly announced Living with Covid Plan , clearly sets out the guidance and restrictions that will apply for all sectors, including public transport, at the 5 levels of the Plan, including strong messaging that people should use active travel as an alternative where this is feasible. This advice along with other measures (such as continuing to work from home where possible) is aimed at suppressing the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland. The advice is also aimed at ensuring public transport is safeguarded for those who need it most, most notably, frontline workers and students.
Both my Department and the NTA are closely monitoring public transport demand and will continue to be guided by public health advice.