West Midlands key workers risk losing one of the few benefits they gained during lockdown - their time.
The latest National Express West Midlands data shows that bus journeys across the region are taking half as much time as they did before the pandemic took a lot of traffic off the streets. So at the moment, hundreds of thousands of NHS heroes, care workers and supermarket staff are able to spend more time at home with their families.
For example, a nurse living in Northfield gets the bus to Priory Queensway in Birmingham city centre to work at the Children's Hospital. Before lockdown, they would have spent an average of 51 minutes on the bus in heavy traffic. That journey during lockdown is 23 minutes quicker - that’s 45% - and takes just 28 minutes.
For a carer to get the bus from West Bromwich to a care home in Erdington (route 74 and X3) used to take 1 hour and 19 minutes. Now, they can get there in 51 minutes.
A nurse who lives in Sedgley and takes the bus to Russells Hall Hospital via Dudley used to take 42 minutes to get to work. That journey can now be done in 29 minutes.
A supermarket worker travelling from Willenhall to the city centre in Coventry now saves 10 minutes on a bus journey that used to take more than half an hour because it was delayed by congestion on the London Road around Whitley.
All bus journeys are much more punctual than they were before lockdown. In the morning peak, less than 2% of buses are late in current conditions. Pre-pandemic, traffic and delays meant that passengers could be up to 15 minutes late arriving at work or getting back home.
But Department for Transport statistics for 24 August 2020 show that car use is already back up to 94% of pre-lockdown levels.
A University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said:
“A reduction in congestion in our communities is great for our air quality which we know has a big impact on the health and wellbeing of all of us.
“Faster and more reliable public transport journeys, not held back by traffic, has also meant that vital key workers and NHS workers have been able to get home to their loved ones quicker at the end of the working day, where throughout the pandemic they have worked incredibly hard to support vulnerable patients and people across the region.”
Tom Stables, Managing Director of National Express UK, said:
“Our key workers have got us through this crisis. One of the few silver linings to come out of this horrible pandemic is that we’ve been able to give nurses and binmen back their own precious time.
“As we come out of lockdown, we need to keep the region’s buses running smoothly by protecting them from traffic congestion. If we don’t, our NHS heroes will again be spending more and more of their free time on buses stuck in traffic, when they should be at home with their loved ones.”
The air has also been much cleaner than pre-virus. April saw levels of poisonous nitrogen oxides in Birmingham fall by over a third. But they are creeping up again as more people get back in their cars - and the effects of pollution fall harder on people on lower incomes.
A recent survey of 7,000 people carried out by Transport for West Midlands showed that the three key things people wanted as a legacy of Covid-19 were cleaner air, quieter roads and a better work-life balance.
Published 28th August 2020