The head of bus operator Stagecoach has warned that some workers will never go back to five-day a week commuting after the pandemic as the group reported a 92% plunge in half-year profits.
Martin Griffiths said that even after the crisis people will make fewer journeys – but that he was optimistic that bus demand would bounce back, by picking up a larger proportion of those trips.
Stagecoach reported a pre-tax profit of £5.4m for the six months to the end of October, down from £65.9m a year earlier, as revenues fell 43% to £454.6m.
That was blamed on the “substantial fall in passenger demand for public transport in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” affecting regional bus services as well as the end of the group’s rail franchises.
In the spring, commercial revenues on buses were as low as 15% of those seen a year earlier before recovering to 60% and partially sinking back again as new restrictions were imposed.
Government payments for essential local bus services ensured they were able to break even.
Stagecoach said it would “take some time” for demand to reach pre-COVID levels.
Mr Griffiths, the company’s chief executive, told the Press Association: “Some things have changed forever.
“Not everyone will be going back to working five days a week (in the office).
“The numbers of journeys we make over time will be less, but I’m confident we’ll pick up a bigger proportion of that smaller number of journeys.”
Stagecoach said car use in October was at 80-90% of pre-pandemic levels, well ahead of public transport levels.
But it hoped the government would help support a shift away from private cars and onto public transport after the pandemic.
Shares, down by nearly 50% so far this year, rose nearly 11% on the results as the group avoided posting a loss for the half-year.