The rate of bus patronage recovery continues to show wide variance between operators, industry managers’ group the Ten Per Cent Club has revealed in a downbeat assessment of the likelihood of full-scale ridership return.
Fare-paying passengers on the commercial services operated by the Club’s members reached 78% of like-for-like pre-COVID-19 numbers in week ending 5 February, although variation in the rate of recovery in that demographic at individual operators extended from 94% to 69%.
Club Secretary Roger French adds that the average rate of return for fare-paying users on commercial services has not risen above 78% since September 2021, leading him to suggest that a patronage recovery to around that percentage “might have become the ‘new normal’ for many bus companies.”
Fare-paying passengers on tendered routes sat at 70% for the same period. In a further worrying finding, the rate of recovery for concessionary traveller numbers languishes some way behind that of fare-payers. On commercial services, the former group has recorded a rate of return of 57%, and on tendered routes just 50%.
When all is considered, including the recent relaxation of restrictions, the above data represents “a hugely disappointing result” for bus patronage return, says Mr French. “With government financial support [in England] still uncertain beyond the end of next month, it is not looking very good for a recovery.”
Data collected by the Department for Transport (DfT), which uses a different methodology to that of the Ten Per Cent Club, shows that the highest weekday overall return rate for bus patronage in Britain outside London in 2022 so far is 77%, seen on two occasions in early February.
October 2021 saw the peak in ongoing recovery according to DfT’s data, when multiple weekdays returned 80% or better, including two at what has thus far been a weekday high water mark in DfT’s figures of 84%.