People planning on travelling on public transport during the five-day festive window have been urged to book early by the Government’s Christmas travel tsar.
Sir Peter Hendy said there had not been any substantial public transport services on Christmas Day and Boxing Day for many years and he believed this year demand would not be any different, despite the Government easing coronavirus restrictions from December 23-27.
He told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee: “One ought to say ‘be careful’. One ought to say ‘stay local’ because that’s the tone of the message from Government, stay local if you can.
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“But the most important part of the message is book public transport early.”
Sir Peter said that “some elements” of Christmas travel behaviour were the same every year, with many people only undertaking local journeys by car.
“December 23 would always have been the busiest day and on Christmas Eve, those that travel on December 24, the public transport services tail off in the late afternoon and if you travel after lunch there is virtually no one on them,” he said.
“Boxing Day is going to be very subdued this year because the three biggest generators of travel on Boxing Day are retail, which is curtailed and people’s desire for it is curtailed because of the restrictions; sporting events, many of which if they go ahead will have no audience at all; and air travel where people go to airports and there isn’t half as much of that for obvious reasons.
“December 27 is the day people will go back and bookings are quite heavy and indeed I have put a lot of effort into monitoring bookings and ensuring that services will run.”
Sir Peter said some rail operators had agreements with staff that did not cover Sunday working and this year people could be looking to return home ahead of the end of the five-day window.
Asked whether there could be “travel chaos” on December 27, Sir Peter replied: “Apart from the Covid bit, I have been reading that every year for the 40-odd years I’ve been in the transport industry and ‘Christmas chaos’ rolls off the tongue nicely and just about fits on the front of a tabloid newspaper.”
The Government has announced up to £3 million funding to provide up to 80,000 more seats on coach services over Christmas.
“If you turn up on a major station on Christmas Eve morning and find the train you want is booked, the railway will get you back because by mid-afternoon the trains are almost empty,” Sir Peter said.
“If you are planning to travel in advance and you know the trains are going to be full at the time you are travelling then there will be an alternative, which is to go to National Express, Megabus or one of the other operators and book a ticket and they will be able to cope.”
Sir Peter said it was a decision for the Government as to whether travel should be restricted.
“As for travelling by car, unless the police block roads, there is no way of stopping it,” he said.
“Currently my understanding, the situation has been reviewed and the five-day travel window is being left intact.”
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