Bus patronage in Britain predictably plummeted in the early days of 2021 after strengthened movement restrictions were introduced. But it has not plumbed the depths seen in the earlier stages of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, according to figures released by the Department for Transport (DfT).
Outside London, on the year’s first working day – Monday 4 January – buses carried 29% of the passenger volume recorded in the third week of January 2020, which DfT uses as a reference. That figure dropped to 24% by Wednesday 6 January. It rallied slightly to 26% on Monday 11 January, the most recent day for which data is available.
Weekend ridership is at similar levels. Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 January saw 25% and 31% respectively, declining to 23% and 25% respectively seven days later. In London, usage figures have hovered in the mid- to low-30% area, bottoming out thus far for 2021 on Friday 8 January with 31%.
Outside the capital, the last full working week of December saw patronage peak at 58% on Tuesday 15 December 2020. That return has been bettered on only 10 days since 18 March 2020.
January’s decline in bus patronage has undone most of the good work done by operators during the second half of 2020.
But the figures for early 2021 thus far are stronger than those seen during the first period of movement restrictions in the early months of that year.
Outside London during that period, bus use was at 20% or below for 81 of 82 consecutive days from 24 March to 13 June 2020. No data was recorded on 8 May 2020. Patronage bottomed out at 10% on four of those days.
Despite the low figures in the early days of 2021, bus patronage both within and outside London as a percentage of previous figures is ahead of other public transport modes. Neither national rail nor London Underground services have exceeded usage of 20% since 29 December 2020, although differing methodology is used in both those instances. In the former case, some returns are provisional.