Bus operator Stagecoach has warned investors that passenger numbers may not return for years.
The Perth-based transport company has come up with many innovations to get people on board.
The operator is looking to diversify abroad, with offers to resume services in Dubai and Sweden, in order to be less dependent on the British bus industry.
Stagecoach has ended its rail operations following a disagreement on terms with the UK government.
Its warning of long-term passenger reduction follows the sharp drop with the introduction of the lockdown, when it was subsidized by governments to keep services going for key workers.
Going forward, he foresees permanent changes in customer behavior that will translate into less bus trips, including more homework, more telemedicine, which means fewer hospital visits, more home shopping and better home education.
Innovation in Stagecoach bus services has been accelerated by the health crisis, with pilot contracts in the English Midlands to run services which are reserved for NHS staff.
It is also testing on-demand services via an app, online or over the phone, for NHS workers as well as for small communities in the Tees Valley area.
Given employers’ concerns about the safety of staff returning to work after the lockdown, managers at Stagecoach see an opportunity to offer more special services to businesses.
It started this year with the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria. It is due to be extended to Aberdeen City Council and the University of Kent from next month.
On its standard utilities, Stagecoach seeks to deal with employers who offer reduced rates to their staff.
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It has stepped up its use of contactless and digital advance payments, with 46% of transactions now being done this way.
And the bus company plans to make greater use of price caps for card payments – a process already used by Lothian Transport, which means that multiple trips in a day or week come at a maximum cost.
Research on Stagecoach has found that simplifying fares can improve the perception of value for money and make people more likely to travel by bus. Some 69% of survey participants said they found bus services confusing, and more than a third said they would use them more if that changed.
The company is stepping up marketing and advertising beyond local markets to strengthen the company’s national profile.
Stagecoach is working with Falkirk bus builder Alexander Dennis to develop autonomous bus technology, reduce costs at depots, and with the first regular route scheduled for later this year across the Forth Road Bridge.
‘Ready and committed’
In its annual results, the company said its income rose from £ 1.878bn to £ 1.417bn, with pre-tax profits rising from £ 133m to £ 91m. The numbers were affected by both the lockdown and the loss of its west coast rail franchise from December.
Martin Griffiths, Managing Director, said: “Despite recent events, it is essential that all partners continue to work together to prioritize better mobility, maintain cleaner air and take action to protect the future of our planet as part of the global plan We are ready and determined to play our role ”.