‘Additional capacity for social distancing needs already sought’

Brighton operator The Big Lemon says it has already been asked by one organisation to provide additional capacity on contracted services to accommodate social distancing. It anticipates that the same will follow from other bodies, mandating either larger vehicles or additional journeys.

How it will accommodate that is part of a developing strategy for 2020 and beyond. Speaking in a communication to stakeholders, Founder and Chief Executive Tom Druitt (pictured) says that what comes next will “not be simply a return to how things were before.” The operator now needs to examine how many vehicles it will need, and at what sizes, he adds.

Vehicle capacity constrained under social distancing

Using one of The Big Lemon’s buses as an example of the scale of the issue, Mr Druitt says that its capacity of 30 seated and 28 standing passengers will realistically reduce to seven people travelling individually, or up to 14 if people from the same household travel together.

“Across the industry that is a huge reduction. It will have many implications,” he adds. “As costs rise and passenger income falls to a fraction of what it once was, the whole business model for most bus companies gets blown out of the water.”

Mr Druitt’s view is that passenger income will “take years to recover” following the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. He says that while most of The Big Lemon’s routes are contracted, fare revenue has “almost completely dried up”.

Because of that, increased subsidy levels will be required if services are to return to their previous form. The alternative is to reduce provision.

‘Industry must now envision the future’

Based on the changes that the industry will face, Mr Druitt says that The Big Lemon’s strategy now must be to “envision what is required of public transport in the future and make that our model.”

That will encompass both passenger safety and social distancing, and what is required in terms of reducing emissions. It will also capture a rework of The Big Lemon’s business plan based on the new economic reality and the opportunities it will present.