Covid-19 will cause lasting damage to the bus sector in Bristol and the surrounding area, the West of England Combined Authority has warned, and could demand new thinking on the regulatory framework for the industry.
Peter Mann, WECA’s head of strategic transport integration, told the combined authority last week: “It cannot be over-emphasised just how significant an impact the Covid-19 crisis has had on the long-term prospects of a commercially successful bus network in the West of England [WECA covers Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset].
“The huge loss of core customer base upon which significant investment has been built over recent years is likely to take many more years to re-establish and operators are likely to incur sustained losses unless they cut back their network to reduce costs and/or increase fares.
“Both of these actions will reduce the attraction of travelling by bus and risk generating a vicious circle, which the authorities in the West of England have worked so hard to break out of in recent years.
“Whilst to a large extent the Government funding, through Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant and importantly the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, has allowed many businesses to survive, such support may not continue indefinitely.”
Discussing the ramp up of service mileage, he said: “Inevitably, the operator focus has to be on getting people to work in the short-term, but this may be at the expense of wide geographical network coverage, which may have to follow once the funding situation is clearer.”
Mann said local transport authorities might have to play a new role in bus service provision. “The role may change depending on how the Government responds to the longer-term funding challenge.
“For the foreseeable future the bus system is likely to need to work on the basis of co-ordination, co-operation and partnership rather than competition.”
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