Bus industry opinion on the scope of post-COVID-19 passenger recovery varies. Informed analysis says that sector-wide, at most 91% of pre-pandemic usage will return during this decade. That is a worrying prospect, although as a caveat, higher yield farepayers have come back more quickly than concessionary users.
The person behind that prediction – industry expert Chris Cheek – suggests that such a rate will threaten commercial operation in some areas and thus increase potential for re-regulation, although that would bring its own challenges.
But Mr Cheek projects that leisure-related bus travel will recover in its entirety. Such a position is logical. One weekend in April saw Blackpool Transport’s ridership at 96% of pre-pandemic levels, while government data shows that outside London, Saturday and Sunday recovery largely outperforms that on other days.
But leisure patronage will not return on its own. It needs coaxing. Promotion of bus by governments is imperative, and must be seen as an obligation considering ministers’ disastrous messaging about public transport in 2020.
Former First Bus man Alex Warner notes that much is also lacking within the sector to capitalise on leisure demand. He believes that a proactive approach is needed, one that certainly does not include closure of travel shops, cessation of printed timetable publication and other measures that restrict access to services for those that are unfamiliar with them.
The industry has breathing space before the inevitable end of revenue support. Wise use of it will be the difference between survival or otherwise for some routes.