Lincolnshire council concerned for small operators

Lincolnshire County Council has published a report expressing concern for small, family bus and coach operators.

The Council’s Highways and Transport Scrutiny Committee report says the county has a relatively small failing passenger transport market. It is concerned about all bus operators I the area, but it considers the smaller family run businesses and those that are reliant on coaching/airport runs as the main part of their business as particularly vulnerable. It says it is monitoring the situation closely during the recovery stage with the pandemic.

The Committee notes that bus services are returning to near pre-COVID levels but unfortunately passenger numbers are currently circa 20-30% of former levels because of the Government’s previous messages about travelling on public transport as a last resort and the on-going requirement for social distancing. This means that the income streams are reduced whilst the operating costs are not.

It has stressed that operators that rely heavily on other transport activities such as coaching holidays are at significant risk with a total loss of business during the initial containment and delay phases of the pandemic. It cited the CPT’s estimation that coach operators still face standing costs of £1,900 per day even with all staff furloughed and the operation shut down.

The report outlined the additional costs for operators associated with making the operation COVID-secure and the difficulties surrounding PSVAR.

It notes the unintended consequences of introducing PSVAR include there not being enough vehicles for the demand, with new PSVAR coaches deemed expensive. Given the need to invest in newer vehicles, the Committee heard that a number of operators are considering withdrawing from the school transport market; and tender prices are increasing as operators are looking to recoup their vehicle investment costs. The report said: “The last batch of like for like home to school Page 13 tenders requiring accessible vehicles saw an average price increase of 11%.”

The report also mentioned concerns about forthcoming changes on the Open Data requirements. It said: “Coupled with the impact of COVID-19 and PSVAR there is a real risk that operators may consider there to be too many challenges and opt to leave the market. We continue to look for ways to support and encourage the current marketplace whilst remaining within the allocated budget and within the restrictions of state aid.”

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