Motorway services operator Moto Hospitality has had to furlough nearly three fifths of its workforce due to the coronavirus restrictions, but is keeping all of its 46 sites open in order to support the transport sector.

Moto CEO Ken McMeikan told Forecourt Trader: “From the very outset when the government talked about key workers, one of the unsung heroes during the coronavirus challenge has been HGV drivers who are moving food, medicine and other essentials around the UK, and if anything working longer hours.

“Therefore, we thought the part we can play is to try and find a way we can keep our facilities open for them.

“HGV drivers will be away from home, staying on sites overnight, and they need access to toilets and showers, to food and drink, and to fuel.”

The company took the decision to keep all it sites open, but has had to close all its catering brands, such as Greggs, Burger King, Costa and KFC, due to the coronavirus restrictions.

Its WH Smith and M&S Simply Food outlets, together with its forecourt stores, enable it to provide food and drink to drivers, as well as hot beverages from Costa vending machines.

It is also providing hot food from 16 West Cornwall Pasty outlets and is trialling use of a “dark kitchen” to supply hot meals to order at the WH Smith at its Ferrybridge services in West Yorkshire.

McMeikan said the company has had to furlough about 3,000 of its 5,000 colleagues and that trade had been slow for remaining staff.

“It’s not been like the panic buying at the supermarkets, it’s been the reverse,” he explained. Traffic was down around 65% on weekdays, compared to usual levels, with Saturdays down 80% and Sundays – usually its busiest day of the week – down 85%. Fuel volumes have been down by similar amounts.

Extra safety measures have been introduced for customers and staff with floor markings showing the two metre social distancing gap, and screens at the tills. To ensure people are able to keep their distance some tills and self checkout tills have been closed, and even some toilet cubicles and urinals have also been taken out of operation where they are adjacent to other ones.

Extra hand sanitiser units were made available in staff and customer facilities, but McMeikan reported that several of the latter had been ripped from the walls and stolen when the panic over hand sanitiser was at its height. Staff have also been given face masks, with the option to use them, and visors similar to the ones being used by the NHS have also been ordered.

Work has also had to halt on development of the group’s first new services in 12 years. The site on the M6 at Rugby was due to open this summer but, depending on when the restrictions are lifted, this has been put back to the end of the year or Q1 in 2021.