Free NHS shuttle bus services set up last year to support hospital staff during the Covid-19 pandemic are to return to their regular Ring and Ride service later this month.
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) redeployed the fleet of Ring and Ride minibuses to help get hospital staff to and from work last April – at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.
They have been providing the service for ‘NHS Heroes’ ever since but with lockdown restrictions now starting to be lifted and more train, tram and bus services being reintroduced for key workers and the wider public, the shuttle buses are set to return to normal duties from April 12. This decision has been taken in consultation with the NHS.
In total the service has provided more than 39,700 trips and at its peak was providing nearly 1,150 trips each day. In recent weeks there has been a significant decline in the number of users.
At the same time, many regular Ring and Ride customers who spent much of the last year locked down or isolating have also now been vaccinated. With the relaxation of lockdown, demand for the service is expected to return quickly.
The Ring and Ride service is run by National Express Accessible Transport (NEAT) under contract from TfWM and provides door-to-door transport for anybody who finds it difficult to use regular public transport.
Linda McCord, chair of the West Midlands Bus Alliance, said: “The NHS shuttles provided a much needed service for hospital staff during the darkest days of this pandemic. We were delighted to provide this support for the last year.
“But as restrictions are lifted, with non-essential shops opening, outdoor socialising now allowed, and Ring and Ride users feeling more able to get out and about, the minibuses will be returning to their original duties from April 12.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all NHS staff for their hard work and dedication in the region during the last 12 months and we hope that the provision of the shuttle buses have gone some way to supporting them to undertake this heroic effort.
“We would also like to thank the NEAT drivers for stepping up to support the NHS over the last year.”
The NHS shuttle buses have been running at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, Walsall Manor Hospital and Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield.
Vinay Parmar, managing director of National Express Accessible Transport, said: “I’m incredibly proud of our NEAT drivers and teams who have helped our local NHS heroes over the last 12 months. They have worked so hard to keep our communities safe and well during what has been a very difficult year.
“Our Ring and Ride service has continued operating throughout the pandemic and as restrictions ease and more shops and attractions start to open up, we are looking forward to welcoming many more of our customers back onboard to help them to get out and about this spring.”