Social distancing no problem as Shrewsbury park-and-ride returns
No worries about social distancing today. The only dilemma for users of the Shrewsbury park-and-ride scheme is choosing where to sit.
Despite most non-essential shops reopening for the first time in nearly three months, and the return of glorious sunshine following a week of unsettled weather, there is just one other passenger on the 11.40am service from the Harlescott bus depot to the centre of town.
Claire Brown, a retail assistant at the town's Wilko branch, is on her way to work. She has been working throughout the lockdown, as her employer was deemed an essential retailer by the Government, and has been using the park-and-ride service since it was relaunched at the start of the month.
"I think the most I have seen on it has been three," she says, adding that she believes it is likely to get busier over the coming week.
"It's a lot better now they have got the shops open, people are going to need to get things," she says, before taking a seat by the window.
Despite the bus being virtually empty, staff at Arriva, which runs the service, have taken the precaution of taping off the fold-down seats at the front.
It is driver Simon Robinson's first day back after furlough. So far he has made a total of six journeys, carrying 15 passengers to and from town. This is actually a significant increase on the past couple of weeks according to James Willocks, of Shropshire Council.
Mr Robinson, now seated behind a protective screen, admits he probably felt safer at home, but is otherwise happy to be back behind the wheel.
"It's strange, on the one hand I felt that at home I was safe, but it's good to be back at work, it feels good," he says.
After about 10 minutes, the bus stops in Castle Street, Claire gets off, and her place is taken by Lindsey Salomom for the return journey, which seems to take a little longer.
"It used to be really busy before the lockdown," she tells me. She has used the service to visit the bank, and says she has made the journey a couple or so times since the service was relaunched, and it has always been quiet.
"I normally use the service at least once a week," she says. "I think it will get busier now the shops are starting to reopen."
There is a brief moment of panic when she notes the bus is taking a different route from the one it normally does.
"This does go to Harlescott, doesn't it," she asks.
Mr Willocks, passenger transport manager at Shropshire Council, says the service has been relaunched on a trial basis to see how it works.
"At the moment the advice is still not to use public transport unless you really have to, and we are not promoting the service," he says.
"But we also realise that as people return to work, some people are going to need to get into town by public transport.
"Before the outbreak, the service provided three routes, from Harlescott, Meole Brace and Oxon, and was used by 600,000 passengers a year, or about 2,000 day.
"We are expecting over the next couple of weeks for that number to start to increase. At the moment we are running a service every 20 minutes, but as demand gets higher we will look at increasing the frequency of the service."
"Once we have got the figures on how many people are using the Harlescott service, we will use that data to see whether we need to open Meole Brace," he says, adding that then the council would finally look at the Oxon service.
Mr Willocks said at the moment there were three buses in operation, but the proximity to the Arriva bus depot meant this could easily be increased if demand justified it.