The UK new bus and coach market declined further, down -58.5% in the first quarter of 2021, according to figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). In what has been the weakest start to the year on record, only 582 buses and coaches joined UK roads in the first three months of 2021, as the sector faced significantly reduced demand during nationwide lockdowns combined with a longer-term challenge of declining ridership.
The entire sector saw double-digit declines, with single-deck buses and coaches most affected by prolonged closures, down -72.6% to just 91 vehicles registered. Meanwhile, the largest segment, minibuses weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, saw a decline of -59.2% to just 384 vehicles, and double-deck bus and coach registrations dropped -17.7% to 107 vehicles.
Bus ridership was most impacted by the coronavirus closures of 2020, with traffic down -32.0% in the year. This decline, compounded by a longer-term decrease in bus passenger numbers, puts into perspective how much the sector has yet to overcome if it is to begin a recovery. The government’s Bus Back Better plan needs to address these issues to protect this vital sector, especially given the potential change in future travel patterns with working from home on the rise, and transport mode preferences changing as the nation emerges from lockdown.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “It is devastating but unsurprising that the bus and coach sector has continued to suffer well into 2021, with no sign of recovery yet. Battling with long term declines in passenger numbers and the nationwide lockdown measures brought about by the pandemic has resulted in plummeting registrations. The sector urgently needs a boost in operator confidence to restore order books before we can even begin to talk about recovery. Given that the UK needs to replace at least 4,000 vehicles a year as they retire from service, we are dangerously at risk of a bus shortage at a time when public transport will be needed most as businesses return to work.”
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