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ITS businesses work on despite coronavirus challenges

Coronavirus: DfT works with ITS (UK) to understand how pandemic is affecting transport technology sector

Mark Moran
21 April 2020

Most British companies working the intelligent transport systems (ITS) sector are hopeful that they will ride out the coronavirus emergency, a survey conducted for the Department for Transport has revealed.

A quarter of private companies that are members of ITS (UK) have reported that the coronavirus crisis has had a “significant effect” on their businesses, with only one in ten saying it has had no effect. However, despite uncertainty and concerns, most have told ITS(UK) the initial impact has not been too severe and they remain “cautiously optimistic” about recovery provided the crisis does not last too long.

The organisations responded to a survey from ITS (UK) on behalf of the Department for Transport that is gauging the sector’s challenges in order to coordinate its response.

The survey found three-quarters had seen some lost business, with work put on hold and contract awards deferred. However only a third have so far needed to either furlough staff or cut pay. More than half of the companies are confident that their business will return to normal when the crisis is over, with only a tenth “very worried” about the future.

Government intervention has provided a measure of support, but it is clear some members, such as company directors, are ineligible for help. The survey suggests more clarity about forward investment for research and infrastructure is needed from central and local government.

Respondents said that it is too early to know what the real impact of the crisis will be, saying that this will become clearer in the next two-to-three months.  They also suggested Government spending on infrastructure will make a big difference to the industry if it is delivered as planned.

Some have even reported positives from the current lockdown. They talk of efficiencies discovered thanks to more digital working and using the time to review strategy and goals. There is also widespread agreement that the industry should work to ensure that the decrease in transport use, particularly traffic levels, is not completely reversed once the crisis is over. The ITS industry should, they believe, work to promote solutions to retain some of the reduction.

“While it is very concerning to see the numbers of members reporting negative effects of the current crisis, it is not surprising given the huge changes we have all had to make,” said Jennie Martin, ITS (UK) Secretary General. “However, what is heartening is the can-do attitude of members and their overall optimism for the future. Any member struggling at all can rest assured that ITS (UK) will do all it can to help, and across all our members we hope to learn from this crisis and find some positive outcomes from the current crisis.”

The Department for Transport is now examining the responses and using them to help shape its overall reaction to support the transport industry.

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