A temporary relaxation of concessionary travel arrangements in County Durham will end next week to help bus companies manage social distancing.

As more people return to work, public transport operators across the region face the challenge of meeting this extra demand, while ensuring a safe environment for passengers.

Passenger numbers are highest at the beginning and end of the day and so people who need to make essential journey for shopping, care or health reasons are being encouraged to travel in the afternoon when buses and Metro trains are quieter.

To further encourage this, local authorities, including Durham County Council, and transport operators in the region have agreed to end the temporary relaxation of concessionary travel rules from Tuesday 26 May. The relaxation was introduced across the region in late March and allowed those with concessionary passes to travel on buses and the Tyne and Wear Metro for free before 9.30am. The aim was to provide more flexibility for older people and those with disabilities to visit supermarkets during the lockdown.

However, as the lockdown is slowly eased and passenger numbers begin to rise, the best way to ensure social distancing guidance is followed is to encourage commuters to travel at different times of the day. This is particularly important for older people and those more vulnerable to coronavirus.

In County Durham, this means the pre-lockdown arrangements will be reinstated, with bus pass holders paying 50 pence if they travel before 9.30am. This is a reduced fare subsidised by the council, which is not provided in all areas of the region.

Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Now that more people are returning to their workplaces, it is important that we take steps across the region to protect passengers. It is vital we help public transport operators balance the need to get people to work, while maintaining social distancing, and this means staggering the times when passengers travel.

“The relaxation of the concessionary travel scheme was a temporary measure to address the situation at the time. The situation has changed, and we are now facing a new set of challenges. Therefore, I urge people to only use public transport for essential journeys and to travel in the afternoon where possible.”

For more information about concessionary travel in County Durham, visit www.durham.gov.uk/buspass

To find out more about the support on offer in the County Durham during the coronavirus pandemic, visit: www.durham.gov.uk/coronavirus