Jo Foxall, Traveline Cymru Managing Director, has over 17 years’ experience in the sector and has recently been crowned the winner of the Women in Transport award at the 2020 Wales Transport Awards. Her wealth of experience means she can offer an invaluable insight into the issues currently faced by the industry, as well as the potential long term impacts the pandemic may have.
Below, Jo talks in detail about the ongoing effects of Covid-19, the industry’s response and how she’s adapted the way Traveline Cymru (and our umbrella organisation PTI Cymru) operate:
Sadly, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the public transport industry. The national lockdown and subsequent ‘essential travel only’ message meant that operators had to completely curtail their fleets, whilst still providing safe and essential travel for those key workers. And even though the essential travel message has been lifted, local lockdowns are now in place restricting travel and many people are still working from home and only travelling into their local areas. It’s likely that people’s travel habits will remain changed for a long time to come and the industry is having to adapt to survive.
Our organisation responded rapidly and with a can do attitude to the changes that have come about due to COVID. As an organisation that prides itself on being flexible and agile, we were able to get our whole team including our contact centre set up to safely work from home in a matter of days from the lockdown announcement. Despite significant changes to our working arrangements, we have continued to deliver a high level of service to our customers and contracts. We were even able to assist some of our contract holders by handling additional calls as their businesses faced their own challenges. The team continue to be positive and upbeat and we have worked hard to keep spirits high with weekly quizzes and non-work related activities to keep people communicating. We continue to work from home and will do until at least the new year.
During my career in the industry, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The closest we’ve ever got in terms of service disruption and sheer volume of work to accommodate and communicate the public transport changes has to be prolonged periods of inclement weather such as our experiences with The Beast from the East in 2018. We know from our experience that it is during times of uncertainty such as inclement weather, strike action or indeed a global pandemic, that people need the support of our services and our team the most.
The industry is starting to emerge and we are seeing the reinstatement of many of the services that were cancelled or curtailed in the early stages of lockdown, which is fantastic to see but of course a huge amount of work for my team. I think unfortunately it’s inevitable that the local lockdowns and the continued restrictions will have an impact on the industry for some time to come.
The industry is having to and will continue to have to adjust and diversify to survive in the long term. We are seeing the emergence of schemes such as Transport for Wales’ Fflecsi service and a heavier reliance on community transport and services such as Bwcabus in West Wales. People’s travel habits are likely to remain changed for the long term and the industry will need to continue to listen to customer needs and adapt to meet them.
One of the positives for me that has come out of the pandemic is how home working and flexible working has had to come to the fore to support businesses and the economy to survive. Our organisation has always had a strong flexible working ethos, with many of our team either based permanently from home or working from home part time. I think that it has demonstrated to employers that people can work from home and work flexibly and still achieve everything they need to achieve and often more. I’m hopeful that this will result in a greater flexibility for more businesses going forward as this kind of working practice benefits so many, not just women or people with caring responsibilities but everyone who is looking for a greater work life balance. For me, being home every evening to sit and eat with my family is something I rarely did before, but something I’m very keen to retain on the other side of this.
My aspirations for the future include continuing to navigate the business through the ongoing challenges that COVID presents and ensuring that a quality and joined up public transport information service remains to support those customers who need it and also to support the industry and encourage more people to travel by alternative modes. I am keen to continue to work with our customers and our talented team to grow our offering and diversify the information we provide to include more real time information, information about different modes and to generally add to our repertoire. With the emergence of Transport for Wales and all of the exciting and innovative projects being developed, the transport industry whilst challenging, is a very exciting place to be at the moment.