Union dispute leads to delay recruiting volunteers to help at train stations

02 Jul 2020 News

A volunteer scheme to help people use public transport safely has launched in just two cities, with delays in recruiting volunteers to assist the train network.  

The Journey Maker programme, which was announced in May by Volunteering Matters and funded by the Department for Transport, aims to place volunteers at bus and train stations to help people as they return to work, but negotiations with the rail unions has led to delays. 

The charity told Civil Society News that volunteers are already deployed at bus stations in Bath and Bristol, and will be providing more help in other cities as discussions with local councils progress.

Rail delays

However, no volunteers have yet started work on the rail system, amid ongoing negotiations between rail unions and the DfT about the scope of the roles to be fulfilled by volunteers.

There is no guarantee that volunteers will be in place by next week, when rising numbers of commuters are expected to head back onto public transport as substantial parts of lockdown lift in England.

Supporting the public

Paul Reddish, chief executive of Volunteering Matters, said: “We have now started deployments to bus stations. There are volunteers currently supporting the public in Bath and Bristol bus terminals, with other local authorities expected to be added within the coming days.  

“With rail, there are still discussions happening between Department for Transport and the RMT Union on the scope of the roles. Once these discussions are concluded, we’ll look for volunteers to support outside of rail stations. This will likely be no earlier than next week.”

‘Getting it right’

Reddish added: “For us this is all about getting it right. We need to be confident that the roles are needed, meaningful and will be a good experience for volunteers. They are there to support the public, and be a friendly face when everyone is a little anxious as we all get the country back started again.  

“We therefore have to organise location by location risk assessments and training for the volunteers, and also ensure everyone is clear what the volunteers are there to do or not do. For example, [they are] not there in enforcement of social distancing rules, but to help people move around safely and understand where to go in new layouts, designed to keep people safe, etc.”

Rising demand

Reddish also said that he anticipated that the number of commuters, and the need for volunteers, would not grow too sharply until later in the summer.

He said: “Although not the primary reason for the delay in rail, travel volumes in the first week of lifting of restrictions were 10% of what they were pre-Covid, so the support of volunteers is likely to be needed more greatly in the coming weeks of July and August.”

Volunteering Matters hopes to recruit thousands of volunteers over the course of the scheme, according to the announcement last month.

The DfT declined to comment.

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