A free shuttle bus service provided by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) for workers at NHS hospitals across the region has been used almost 30,000 times since being launched.
The fleet of Ring and Ride minibuses have been redeployed to help key workers at four hospitals commute from rail, bus and Metro stations to work since the start of April.
The service, operated by National Express Accessible Transport (NEAT) under contract from TfWM, is targeted at hospitals where there were gaps in existing public transport services.
Ring and Ride driver Paul Matthews at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton
Ring and Ride driver Paul Matthews said he was delighted to be asked to support the NHS during lockdown.
He carries at least 100 NHS staff per week between Wolverhampton rail and bus station to New Cross Hospital.
He said: “We’re here to help the NHS staff get home safely after their long shifts.
“We get doctors and nurses, student nurses, porters, cleaners and voluntary staff, anyone who works at the hospital. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
As well as New Cross Hospital, the service has been running at Dudley’s Russells Hall Hospital, Walsall Manor Hospital and Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield.
Demand for Ring and Ride services has declined during the pandemic with many of its vulnerable passengers either shielding or reducing their trips out, so TfWM, which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) made minbuses available to the NHS.
The Ring and Ride service has also provided a minibus and driver to the Go West PCN in Coventry to transport nurses administering flu vaccinations to vulnerable people at home.
Paul Jennings, Birmingham and Solihull NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnership leader, said: “We’re so pleased that almost 30,000 local NHS and care staff have continued to be able to rely on the shuttle bus service, so they can get to work and provide the best possible care and support to local people.
“We would like to thank the bus drivers who have dedicated their time to help provide the service which has allowed our incredible workforce to get to work safely since the earlier stages of this pandemic.”
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The 30,000 journeys shows how popular and vital this shuttle bus service is for staff at our hospitals.
“By putting on these extra shuttle bus services we have been able to make the daily commute a little easier for NHS staff while they are working so hard to protect us all and save lives.”
Cllr Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio holder for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “Throughout the pandemic our public transport staff have responded brilliantly to keep the bus, rail and tram networks running and ensure people can safely make those important journeys.
“With the hospital shuttle buses we have also shown how we can pull together and adapt our services to support those working on the NHS frontline.”
Vinay Parmar, managing director of NEAT, added: "By working together we were able to quickly adapt and repurpose some of our Ring and Ride fleet to support our NHS workers on the frontline.
"Everyone involved is literally helping to save lives during these difficult times. It doesn’t get more important than this.
"The feedback has been fantastic and we're all really proud to play our part in delivering these vital services to help our NHS staff get to work safely."