Bus services continue in lockdown despite big drop in passenger numbers

Empty bus in Ipswich

Fewer people have been travelling on buses since the first lockdown. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Although the number of bus passengers has fallen again since the introduction of the third lockdown, local companies have so far maintained their existing timetables - and are continuing to get support from the government to keep essential travellers moving.

The Department for Transport has been supporting bus companies to keep services running since the first lockdown last spring - the number of passengers has only been a fraction of pre-pandemic numbers since last March.

Numbers did increase during the summer and early autumn as restrictions were eased and cases of Covid-19 fell - but the November lockdown saw them fall again.

Stephen Bryce, general manager of Ipswich Buses

Stephen Bryce, general manager of Ipswich Buses - Credit: Ipswich Buses

Ipswich Buses general manager Stephen Bryce said: "We are currently running our normal services and have no plans to change. We should be all right for a time - but we keep things under review.

"We had hoped that passenger numbers would go up after the end of the November lockdown but they fell again before Christmas and we are now back with about 20% of our normal passenger numbers."

First Eastern Counties has not made any changes to its timetable but is running buses which are supported by the Department for Transport  as are other operators around the country.

One senior transport manager with decades of experience of the industry said: "It's a bit like being back with the National Bus Company." That was the nationalised service that ran services across the UK until it was privatised in the mid-1980s.

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Bus passenger numbers have remained higher than those on trains during the pandemic - partly because they tend to be shorter journeys and they are often used by people who have no other means of transport.

Some rail commuters switched to driving when the roads were quiet during the first lockdown - but for most bus passengers that was not an option.

Changes to the way the government supports and regulates public transport in the future are expected to be announced once all restrictions are eased - but it is thought that bus passenger numbers are likely to recover more quickly that those for the rail industry.

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