Will the restart of the economy be too much of a challenge for some bus operators to survive?

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The announcement of the daily figures by the Department of Health officials has become a focal point in anticipation of good news in terms of a reduction in death rates and new confirmed cases of Covid-19. More recently we see increasing numbers of those vaccinated each week. Of course, all of this gives hope for the future and our society returning to some type of normality. The Coach Tourism & Transport Council has being doing a wonderful job in representing their members and have warned that the Government cannot remove the present supports for some time. Most business have been just about surviving, but the cash flow that will be required to get up and running may prove too big a challenge for some passenger transport companies.

As bright as the future may seem and as enthusiastic as people may be to resume traveling, getting back on the road will be a precarious time. While the banks have been reasonably supportive so far, the big test is about to come, how much latitude will they give in the coming twelve months? One very telling prediction is from the management at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, who expect visitor numbers to return to 2019 levels at the earliest in 2023.

There are some bright spots on the horizon, however. National Express in the UK is seeing an increase in the numbers traveling and are adding new routes each week. Many UK operators are reporting an increase in enquiries for group travel and private hire. Last Monday saw a return of school bus services. It may be optimistic to think that some school trips will happen between now and the end of the year, but you never know. 

Revolut, the now very popular payment card system has published some encouraging data about the spending trends of the public, in particular the travelling public. Revolut competes with the likes of Visa, some regard it as more secure and there are 1.2 million card holders in Ireland currently. Their figures say that consumer spending is up 50% month on month for Bus & Train travel since the start of the year. Airline bookings for the month of March were up almost 60% on February. Of course, it is true that the figures were low to begin with, but nonetheless the increases are substantial. The other plus side of this is that if airline bookings are up as much in other European countries, maybe we in Ireland will benefit. 

In spite of all this optimism, I know there are many operators having sleepless nights as they look to the future. The new business pandemic will be “cash flow” for them, fortunately we know what the vaccine is. One must be concerned that just as there was concern about a shortage of the medical vaccine, could there be a shortage of the business vaccine. Will the Government continue to provide business with practical help and keep the support in place long enough for people to get their operations up and running? All through the Covid-19 crisis the Government put a lot of value on the “medical expertise and advice” they received and took. Let’s hope they take advice from the experts when it comes to resuscitating the bus and coach sector, they need to, because there is very little of it around the Cabinet table. Sean Murtagh

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