Bus passenger figures struggle to grow as restrictions lift

Data released by the Department for Transport (DfT) shows that bus passenger figures in Britain outside London are rising at a slower rate than car usage as the country starts to recover from the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

DfT presents usage as a percentage of that on an equivalent day. On Monday 15 June, the date when many non-essential shops in England reopened and for which the most recent figures are available, patronage was at just 21%. That was only three percentage points higher than the previous Monday and seven percentage points above the Monday four weeks earlier.

Car usage was at 70% on 15 June, the 32nd consecutive day it exceeded 50%. It increased by 17 percentage points in the four weeks to 15 June. That was more than double the pace of growth of bus passenger numbers over the same period.

Bus patronage bottomed out at 10% on four occasions in April. It has been slowly rising since then. Sunday 14 June was the first day that the 20% barrier was broken since 23 March.

Buses are carrying a significantly higher percentage of their normal loadings than the rail network, however. On 15 June National Rail services carried a predicted 8% of the users they would otherwise have done. That figure has been as low as 4% on several occasions.

Separate data shows hat despite bus use in Britain only starting to fall significantly from the middle of March, overall passenger figures in Q1 2020 dropped by 13.0% when compared to Q1 2019.

Wales was hit hardest. Patronage there slumped by 15.7% from Q1 2019 to Q1 2020. In Scotland, the decline was 13.1%. In England, bus usage reduced by 12.9% although the drop was more severe in London, at 13.5%. It fell by 12.2% in England outside London during the same period.

For the year ending March 2020, there was an overall decrease of 4.3% in bus passenger journeys in Britain. The drop in Scotland was least severe, at 3.6%. In England usage fell by 4.3%, although London saw a loss of 4.9% of passengers compared to a reduction of 3.8% in the rest of England. Wales again fared worst. There, bus passenger numbers declined by 5.9% over the course of the year.