West Midlands ring and ride minibuses are being redeployed as free shuttle buses for NHS hospital staff and key workers supporting social care services across the region.
The majority of regular elderly and vulnerable ring and ride users are now on a strict 12 week lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak meaning the minibuses were not being used.
So the buses, operated by National Express Accessible Transport (NEAT) under contract from Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), will instead be redeployed as shuttle buses ferrying NHS staff from car parks and Metro stops to the region’s major hospitals.
Discussions between the TfWM bosses and NHS providers revealed that since the outbreak many more staff are choosing to drive to work to both reduce the risk of infection and because bus, tram and rail services have been scaled back as demand has fallen.
Staffing at many hospitals has also increased with retired doctors and nurses as well as other healthcare professionals returning to work to help out during the pandemic meaning hospital car parks are full.
The new shuttle bus services, in many cases running from 7am to 10pm five days a week, will ferry staff to hospital from park and ride car parks and Metro stops
TfWM, which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), is also looking to operate a staff shuttle service to the new Nightingale Hospital being built at the NEC.
Each minibus will carry a maximum of two passengers to ensure social distancing is maintained. Busy locations will have six minibuses on a continuous circuit between the hospital and designated car park. The service will be regularly reviewed and adapted to meet the needs of NHS staff.
TfWM park and ride car parks are free to use and monitored by 24 hour CCTV.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Our NHS workers are on the frontline in these incredibly challenging and difficult times, and we should be doing all we can to support them.
“Not only has Transport for West Midlands been able to keep the public transport system running so NHS staff and other key workers can continue to get to work, but now we are re-deploying Ring and Ride services to provide a further mode of transport for NHS workers and hospital staff.
“On behalf of everyone at TfWM and the WMCA I want to say a massive thank you to our incredible NHS staff who are working around the clock in these unprecedented circumstances.”
Cllr Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio holder for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council added: “Last week we applauded our NHS heroes who every day put themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe but we also need to offer them practical help and this shuttle service is one way we at TfWM can support them to continue doing such a fantastic job.”
Rachel O'Connor, assistant chief executive for Birmingham and Solihull NHS sustainability and transformation partnership said: “At this time when our key workers are critical to caring for local people and ensuring our essential public services are available for those at time of need, enabling staff to get to their place of work and removing any challenges with getting to work for them has been at the heart of our planning.
“The range of travel options we have developed with TfWM has been designed to provide a safe, secure, and ease of access set of travel options for our staff, giving them one less thing to worry about.
“Our thanks to TfWM and WMCA for ensuring this temporary public transport network meets the needs of our workforce and for a great collaboration between our agencies to make this happen.”
Vinay Parmar, managing director at National Express Accessible Transport, said: "We are very pleased that we can play our part in getting our wonderful NHS workers safely to where they need to be at this difficult time."
The service starts on Wednesday 1st April, and hospitals and medical facilities served include: Russells Hall, Dudley, Walsall Manor, Wolverhampton New Cross, Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham Dental Hospital, Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Northfield, Good Hope Hospital, Sutton Coldfield and City Hospital, Birmingham.
For a full list and service times visit the website: wmnetwork.co.uk/nhstravel