bus and coach operators call on government to support industry and keep key workers moving 25/03/2020

Ahead of the Chancellor’s announcement of further support for businesses affected by the Covid-19 outbreak bus and coach operators have called on the Government to provide emergency support to ensure networks continue to function and that that those who need to make essential journeys, like health service and emergency workers, can continue to do so.

The unveiling of the latest measures to tackle Covid-19 to avoid social interaction and to work from home where possible are likely to result in at least a £50m per week decline in revenue as passenger numbers on both bus and scheduled coach services look set to fall by 75%. As further measures are introduced to help protect the over 70s concessionary travel is also likely to drop to near zero. Even before yesterday’s announcements the industry was already suffering with declining passengers numbers, down by over a fifth in the days before the Prime Minister’s announcement.

The situation is further exacerbated for the coach hire sector as April to June is traditionally peak season for coach operators as their day to day operations such as home to school transport are supplemented through an increase in tourism events such as music festivals and private hire bookings. In the coach hire sector for each weekend with widespread postponement of football fixtures the industry is losing £500,000 as supporters do not need to travel while cancelations for tourism trips are at 70% with future bookings down by half.

The industry, which transports more people than all other forms of public transport combined and supports around 250,000 jobs is determined to maintain a national network through this unprecedented decline in bus and coach use, in particular to ensure that essential workers such as NHS staff, teachers and those in the food supply chain are able to get to work.

In the longer term maintaining the industry at its current levels is vital to ensure that operators can immediately gear up to deliver a full and reliable service as social distancing and other measures are relaxed or removed. Without Government support, to help the industry both in the short and long term, we risk operators being unable to meet the unique demands of the current situation and a network unable to return to normal levels of operation when required.

As a matter of urgency the Government needs to:

  • Provide bus operators with the ability to temporarily remove, reduce or alter services with immediate effect rather than needing to wait 70 days for approval. The industry would keep customers and local authorities up to date on its plans but running ghost buses to universities where studies are taking place remotely or empty workplaces is a pointless exercise.
  • Deliver a £1 billion financial package to support the entire industry over the next three months to help the industry secure the jobs of employees across the sector and  ensure necessary services can continue to operate. 
  • Ensure that, should it take the decision to close schools, local authorities continue to pay coach operators as if they were operating business as usual, to help maintain short term cash flow.

Chief Executive Graham Vidler said:

On bus and scheduled coach services:

“Buses are crucial to keeping key workers moving. The industry is ready to play its part in maintaining a national network, but we need the Government and local authorities to show some flexibility in allowing operators to alter routes to reflect the realities of the social distancing measures that have been announced.

“In the longer-term, we will need an industry that is ready to respond, once the current measures are relaxed or removed - this means ensuring that routes can be reinstated and buses deployed as quickly as possible. Those who travel by bus contribute tens of millions to the economy each year and we need to ensure this is not lost.

“To do this the industry needs to secure the future of its staff as it suffers unprecedented falls in revenue and we look to the Chancellor to announce measures that will help secure jobs and ensure service levels can be maintained in the long term.

On coach hire:

“At what is traditionally the beginning of the busiest time of year for the coach industry we are seeing an existential crisis with a complete slump in bookings and unprecedented cancellations as people change plans as a result of Coronavirus.

“Tackling coronavirus is the nation’s number one priority right now but we also need to have one eye on the future and ensure that we have the ability to resume these services as needed in the comings months. The Government needs to ensure that, should it take the decision to close schools, local authorities continue to pay coach operators, which are predominated small family businesses, as if they were operating business as usual, to help maintain short term cash flow. Without this many operators will struggle to survive and will not be in a position to resume services at the appropriate time.”

With many buses and coaches potentially not being required in the coming weeks the industry is also ready to discuss with the Government how these vehicles could be put to use

Mr Vidler added:

“It may be possible for the industry to provide special services to community hubs such as shops and potentially make deliveries to those who need them. We would be happy to work with the Government to discuss whether this is feasible and how we can make this happen.”