Bus and coach operators have called on the Government to provide £1bn in emergency support to keep networks functioning for people making essential journeys, such as health and emergency workers.
The call came ahead of the chancellor’s expected announcement of further support for businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) said the latest advice to avoid social interaction and work from home where possible are likely to result in at least a £50m per week decline in revenue as passenger numbers on both bus and scheduled coach services look set to fall by 75%.
It said that even before yesterday’s announcements the industry was suffering with declining passengers numbers, down by over a fifth.
Chief executive Graham Vidler said: ‘Buses are crucial to keeping key workers moving. The industry is ready to play its part in maintaining a national network, but we need the Government and local authorities to show some flexibility in allowing operators to alter routes to reflect the realities of the social distancing measures that have been announced.
‘In the longer term, we will need an industry that is ready to respond, once the current measures are relaxed or removed - this means ensuring that routes can be reinstated and buses deployed as quickly as possible.
‘To do this the industry needs to secure the future of its staff as it suffers unprecedented falls in revenue and we look to the Chancellor to announce measures that will help secure jobs and ensure service levels can be maintained in the long term.’
CPT said the industry, which transports more people than all other forms of public transport combined and supports around 250,000 jobs, ‘is determined to maintain a national network through this unprecedented decline in bus and coach use, in particular to ensure that essential workers such as NHS staff, teachers and those in the food supply chain are able to get to work’.
It called on the Government, ‘as a matter of urgency’, to:
- Provide bus operators with the ability to temporarily remove, reduce or alter services with immediate effect, rather than needing to wait 70 days for approval. 'The industry would keep customers and local authorities up to date on its plans but running ghost buses to universities where studies are taking place remotely or empty workplaces is a pointless exercise.'
- Deliver a £1bn financial package to support the entire industry over the next three months to help the industry secure the jobs of employees across the sector and ensure necessary services can continue to operate.
- Ensure that, should it take the decision to close schools, local authorities continue to pay coach operators as if they were operating business as usual, to help maintain short-term cash flow.
Mr Vidler added: ‘At what is traditionally the beginning of the busiest time of year for the coach industry we are seeing an existential crisis with a complete slump in bookings and unprecedented cancellations as people change plans as a result of Coronavirus.'
CPT said that with many buses and coaches potentially not being required in the coming weeks the industry is ready to discuss with the Government how these vehicles could be put to use.
Mr Vidler said: ‘It may be possible for the industry to provide special services to community hubs such as shops and potentially make deliveries to those who need them. We would be happy to work with the Government to discuss whether this is feasible and how we can make this happen.’