OPINION: Hard to understand logic behind lockdown rules as Harrogate springs back to life - Alex Hornby

Unravelling the rules and logic behind the reduction of lockdown measures can be somewhat of a challenge.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 6:21 pm
NADV 1807261AM1 New Buses. CEO Alex Hornby. (1807261AM1)

Before I go much further, let’s be clear, this viewpoint is put into context of how grateful I am for the position we now find ourselves in as the country gets back on its feet and, most importantly, seeing the continued reduction of COVID cases and casualties.

The vaccination process and other sensible decisions are clearly influencing this, so I’m not here to appear ungrateful, nor blinkered at the grave situations other countries still find themselves in.

However, we are now entering an upbeat mood as our lives approach the normality and confidence we’ve all been craving. Witnessing Harrogate getting back to its usual self has really given me a warm glow inside.

Last weekend, my family and I enjoyed some of our great hospitality and shops (I must offer a particular shout out to Harry’s Free Walking Tour – a must for residents or visitors alike; we’ve lived here for six years but it was truly fascinating stuff and we learned a lot more about our town).

It was inspirational to see how many of the bars and restaurants have responded to the new guidelines and functioning so comfortably in their external settings – and it was a real pleasure to support them after seeing them closed for so long. As we move forward though, the restrictions we have to work with present somewhat of a confusing challenge. In our position, as a bus operator, we want to ensure our buses can run to time, help relieve congestion and improve air quality. As the economy opens, this becomes more critical. Our shops, pubs and restaurants can begin to welcome back people in ‘normal’ numbers whilst we remain at having to only run at less than half the capacity due to a need to impose social distancing conditions on board.

Like the government’s ‘avoid public transport message’ from last year – now proven scientifically unnecessary, with buses confirmed as cleaner than shops, schools and most other public spaces – this is unhelpful all round.

Our customers may soon be able to go clubbing within a cramped environment, but then mask up and social distance themselves on board a bus. Some consistent and joined-up thinking – and exploiting the bus to help grow the economy, and enable us to truly support all industries by allowing us to get people about the town in greater numbers, will allow us all to thrive.

As I write this, customer numbers amongst our fare-paying customers are now at 71 per cent of ‘normal’ levels, which is an utterly remarkable turnaround since we plummeted to six per cent of our usual patronage at the peak of lockdown. This proves the confidence many of our customers have in the bus and we’ve enjoyed welcoming them back. We enable 500,000 customer journeys a month so the bus – and bus user - in Harrogate should not to be overlooked.

Give us an even better environment to thrive in, and expect us to grow further.

That’s great for Harrogate, great for the local economy and great for the long-term future too.