Keeping Edinburgh and the Lothians moving
As will likely be the case for most businesses reading this, it’s been a very difficult few months for Lothian – perhaps the most challenging period we’ve ever faced in our 101-year history.
When lockdown started in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, our teams across the business came together to ensure that lifeline frontline services could continue to run.
From the very beginning, Lothian made a commitment to communicate openly, honestly and regularly. The Help Us To Help You customer information campaign was launched to provide the latest guidance on the recommended steps for safe travel, in line with Scottish Government advice.
Our communications team continue to work hard to keep colleagues and customers up-to-date with as much information as possible across email, social media channels, websites, our mobile app and also on various other messaging platforms including our on-bus collateral.
In the first two weeks of the outbreak our team handled more than 1,300 emails from colleagues, and saw our internal communication database grow by 55%. Our customer services advisers handle thousands of emails from customers each week and have answered more than 12,000 direct messages across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram since lockdown began.
Continual analysis of travel patterns and feedback from colleagues, customers and stakeholders has enabled Lothian to introduce a further six changes to our Critical Services Network since March, with a further review currently being planned for September. Analysis will continue as we move through the Scottish Government’s route-map to recovery.
At the height of lockdown, customer numbers were down more than 90%; naturally, this has had a significant impact on the business. Our task now is to plan our way forward to safeguard our business. Lothian’s executive team continues to work closely with a number of stakeholders including Scottish Government and our local authority shareholders as they explore all avenues. They remain in regular contact with both Unite and the Confederation of Passenger Transport, our industry body, as they consider the challenges we face.
Schools across Edinburgh and the Lothians returned earlier this month, and we prepared to cater for an expected increase in customers to help meet capacity on busy routes. We added extra buses on services 11, 42, 44, 400 and our dedicated East Coast Buses school services 125, 126, 127, 128 were also reintroduced. Four journeys on the Service 45 between Currie and Forrest Road have also been brought in to help accommodate children travelling to and from schools along this route.
Our two tourism operators – Edinburgh Bus Tours and Lothian Motorcoaches – also recently relaunched after suspending operations during lockdown. Having been certified Good To Go and in line with all current public health guidance, Edinburgh Bus Tours launched the Escape In The City campaign, encouraging visitors and residents to spend their ‘staycations’ exploring the capital. In addition to allowing children (aged 15 and under) travel free of charge, plus a free ticket upgrade, Edinburgh Bus Tours also launched an £8 ticket – offering excellent value for money for the Edinburgh Tour, taking in Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish Parliament and the architecture of the Georgian New Town with one of our tour guides. Lothian Motorcoaches returned to service with the Loch Ness and the Highland Experience day tour, taking visitors to see Pitlochry, the Caledonian Canal and Callander. To be in a position to recommence tour operations has been very welcome, and visitor numbers have thus far been promising.
Customer numbers across the Lothian network are still, however, substantially lower than we might have hoped for at this stage of the route-map. During lockdown, customers heeded advice not to travel on public transport and this is still apparent in customer journey numbers today where we appear to be very much behind the rest of Scotland in terms of recovery. We also understand that many of the larger employers have indicated it will be 2021 at the earliest before employees return to onsite working arrangements. Even then, working patterns and overall numbers are likely to change.
It’s clear we have our work cut out for us. One of the greatest challenges we have is restoring confidence in public transport. The majority of our customers are following Scottish Government guidelines by wearing face coverings while travelling on board our services and keeping a distance from others. We are immensely grateful for their support – by playing their part, they are helping protect our colleagues and their fellow passengers. It goes without saying that we cannot thank our customers enough for the support and understanding they’ve shown our colleagues over the last few months.
The future is uncertain.
What is certain, however, is that Lothian will play a critical role in the economic recovery of our capital city and will continue to do all it can to keep Edinburgh and the Lothians moving.