Lancashire County Council is urging people to plan their journeys to help minimise congestion when schools go back next week.
The roads are expected to be at their busiest since before the coronavirus lockdown as most pupils return to the classroom for the first time since March.
With some schools expected to introduce special access arrangements to help social distancing and keep year-group ‘bubbles’ apart, parents are being asked not to add to congestion outside schools while everyone gets used to the new systems in place.
It is estimated that around half of pupils live within 2 miles of their school and, wherever possible, families are being asked to arrange for pupils to walk or cycle. The current Switch to Cycling campaign is looking to build on an increase in people cycling during lockdown with lots of helpful information and advice for anyone thinking of cycling.
The county council’s highways and transport teams will be closely monitoring the situation on the roads in order to respond as quickly as possible to any local issues.
Public buses cannot carry the same number of passengers they usually would due to social distancing measures, and everyone is being asked to try and avoid travelling on public buses at peak times, particularly if they could walk or cycle instead.
The council is working with transport operators to put on extra dedicated school bus services. In some areas these will duplicate existing dedicated school buses to help social distancing where these services are usually very busy. However on some routes where a lot of pupils usually rely on public buses, more services are being operated, including some new dedicated school services, to add to capacity and try to ensure there are enough seats for everyone. People are asked to check with local operators for details.
It is difficult to predict how people may have changed their travel habits due to the pandemic, however the council’s transport team will be working closely with operators to monitor the situation and provide extra services where it is clear that extra capacity is needed.
County Councillor Keith Iddon, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “We can expect the roads to be much busier next week than we’ve been used to in recent months, however we can all do our bit to help things run as smoothly as possible.
“If you can avoid travelling at rush-hour please do, and if you need to travel please leave extra time for your journey.
“If the continued restrictions on public transport lead to more journeys being made by car there could well be localised congestion problems, and I’d ask people to consider alternatives, particularly cycling for short journeys.
“This is a national issue, which is why the government has given councils funding for measures to make cycling easier. The pop-up cycle lanes and road closures to create quieter routes for cycling mean there’s never been a better time to start cycling for short journeys, and it could also make your journey quicker and less stressful.”
Parents and pupils are reminded that it is now the law that children and young people aged 11 and over must wear a face covering on public transport, and in transport hubs, such as bus and railway stations.
New advice from the Department for Education is that students aged 11 and over should also wear a face covering on dedicated school transport, other than those who are exempt. This reflects that ‘1 metre plus’ social distancing measures will not uniformly apply on buses, and will help to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.
Pupils are asked to bring their own hand sanitiser, and use it on boarding and after getting off the bus. Schools have been advised to put in place safe boarding procedures and to consider seating and grouping arrangements on buses to minimise social contacts.
Pupils who pay their bus fare in cash are asked to have the right coins to minimise the need to handle change.
County Councillor Iddon added: “Travel to schools is a particular issue, and while it’s difficult to predict how people may have changed their habits due to the pandemic, we are working with schools and transport operators to identify any potential issues and respond accordingly.
“There will be extra buses from day one on some routes we predict to be particularly busy, and we are closely monitoring the situation to respond in case problems emerge in other areas.
“I would ask everyone to recognise that the changes that will take place as term starts will inevitably throw up some local problems and we will do our best to try to resolve these as quickly as possible, but please bear with us in the meantime.
“It will help if people can plan their journeys, and be patient while everyone gets used to new routines, and we look to provide solutions to any problems.
“The schools going back will be a big step towards normality, but we all need to remember that the coronavirus is still with us, and we all need to take responsibility to prevent its spread by wearing face coverings where necessary and practicing good hygiene at all times.”
You can find out more about cycling for regular journeys at lancashire.gov.uk/cycling.