A special shuttle bus service was used more than 2,500 times to ferry NHS and social care workers to hospital and health facilities since the start of April, according to new figures.
West Midlands Ring and Ride minibuses were redeployed at the start of last month to help health workers during the coronavirus outbreak by offering a free shuttle bus service to work.
It has proved particularly popular with staff working at Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital and Walsall’s Manor Hospital.
The shuttle buses have been targeted to areas where there may be gaps in regular public transport services.
Demand for the region’s Ring and Ride service, operated by National Express Accessible Transport (NEAT) under contract from Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), fell because the vast majority of its regular users are on lockdown or shielding during the outbreak. So the minibus fleet has been redeployed to help the NHS.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said:
“Our NHS staff are on the frontline in the battle against Coronavirus, and I am pleased we have been able to support their incredible work by making their journeys to and from work a little easier with the introduction of the shuttle service.
“It has been an incredibly challenging time, but thanks to the hard work and dedication of our hospital and healthcare staff we are now beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
TfWM is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
Cllr Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio holder for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council, said:
“We must do all we can to help our NHS and care staff during this outbreak, and for our part, TfWM has been working with our bus, train and tram companies to ensure that our hospitals are well served during the coronavirus outbreak.
“This includes making good use of the ring and ride fleet to fill gaps in the service and I am delighted to see so many staff have found the additional service useful.”
Vinay Parmar, managing director of National Express Accessible Transport, said:
"The NHS staff using the shuttles have been telling our drivers that these minibus services are a lifeline for them. “So I'm really proud of our Ring and Ride staff for this superb contribution to supporting our NHS in fighting this terrible virus and helping to save lives."
Regular bus and Metro services are free to NHS staff, who have been urged to use these wherever possible.
Therefore the shuttle buses have been targeted at locations as a supplement to regular public transport services or to make up the final part of a journey such as between Sutton Coldfield railway station and Good Hope Hospital. In some cases the minibuses need to be pre-booked by staff.
Each minibus carries a maximum of two passengers to ensure social distancing is maintained. The shuttle buses will run until further notice.