As the bus and coach industry starts back in service, Busworld, the Belgian bus show organiser and representative body hosted another webinar with highlighted some experiences from operators around the world on how they are coping in the early stages of return and outlined their plans for the future.
One of the most noticeable features from the presentations was how many similarities there are in all of the markets throughout the world. It may be of little consolation to operators in Ireland but they are not alone in the challenges they face. The fourth global Busworld Academy Webinar focused on the expectations about the Post-Coronavirus period for bus and coach operations.
Demand for urban and intercity bus services will increases once semi-lockdown measures are being reduced.
- But how long will it take to reach the Pre-COVID-19 passenger level?
- Which precautions (hygiene, technical adaptations) inside the vehicles can have a positive influence?
- Which challenges will the Post-Corona period bring for all the stakeholders?
Five guest speakers, as listed and featured below gave their Post-COVID-19 outlook, each representing a particular sector of the bus and coach industry.
- Dan Pettersson, Senior Vice President Business Unit Chassis, Volvo & Responsible for Volvo Buses International, Sweden
- Marc Hofmann, CEO, CheckMyBus, Germany
- Bala Dharmaraj, Joint Secretary, BOCI, India
- Donald DeVivo , President, Dattco, USA
- Pierre-Paul Pharand, Keolis Canada
Dan Pettersson, Senior Vice President Business Unit Chassis, Volvo & Responsible for Volvo Buses International, Sweden.
Volvo Bus is slow to make predictions as to how the business will be effected by this crisis. It is confident that activity will come back but what is uncertain is what new trends may emerge. City services will return to normal fairly quickly, but it is not sure will the ‘new normal’ speed up the requirement for electrification of fleets. On the negative side the chance to work from home for employees may reduce the numbers commuting and the long term effect of social distancing may influence the design of buses in the future. Tourism and Inter-city travel is a sector that may see change in the way they develop into the future. It is possible that there could be an accelerated move away from air travel and a return to long distance coach and rail travel, as cheap air tickets could be thing of the past. Volvo Bus is ready for all possible habitual changes that may happen and hope that the environment could be one of the big winners here.
Mr. Marc Hofmann, CEO, CheckMyBus, Germany.
As a ticket sales platform and airport transfer provider, CheckMyBus, has seen a sharp increase in the demand for travel as forward bookings improve due to the lifting of travel bans across Europe. On the airport transfer business which mainly operates in Luxembourg and in neighbouring regions of France and Germany, the numbers booking are also rising. It is early days yet but passengers are more concerned about wearing masks than social distancing. Two trends noticed, although there is no scientific evidence to prove this yet include that there will be no big or obvious reluctance on the part of older people to travel and the need for bigger and more modern bus terminals. A development that will be prevalent is fast, ticketless and cashless travel
Pierre Paul Pharand, CEO, Keolis Canada.
In Canada services are getting back to normal, but business is far from where it was. Passenger perception of risk is a big challenge as they are demanding that fellow passengers wear masks, even though it is not mandatory. Operators have identified four challenges to face in the immediate future, such as health and safety of their employees, making public transport more appealing, integrating and partnering with other operators and getting financial assistance from Government. Like most operators they see commuter transport coming back, but tourism and inter-city which stopped and has not seen any signs of start-up. Bus design will change as drivers look for segregated cabs, similar to what the old double deckers were like in the past. Social distancing is not a big issue for passengers as long as buses are not “stuffed”. Mr Pharand also mentioned that public transport is an evolving situation with a need to regain the confidence of the traveling public.
Donald DeVivo – President, Dattco, USA.
In America the bus passenger market Pre-COVID-19 was worth $15 billion to the economy, add on the other activities in the economy that it supports, or is supported by, that figure becomes $110 billion. 100,000 people are employed directly. Donald De Vivo is an operator and President of Dattco, one of the trade associations representing the sector. His company operates across all sectors and also owns a dealership, primarily for quality used coaches. The business runs 1,200 school buses and 100 large coaches. He says school travel will return, but not a full strength in September. Parents will not want their kids on the bus making long trips to sports events and also thinks that commuter will return, albeit it at a reduced pace. The return of the tourism and inter-city business will be slow, possibly take a year or two, due to a change in habit and reduced discretionary spend by consumers. Dattco has stated that 64,000 people have lost their jobs already and only some of them will come back this year. In most US States wearing masks on public transport is obligatory. Social distancing is a hot topic, if school agencies have their way it will be operating at 25% capacity, which is not sustainable. It is hoped common sense will prevail, but people have genuine fears. One source of annoyance to operators is the lack of Government assistance. Three Federal assistance pay outs have given, $50 billion to the airlines, $25 billion to public transport authorities, $1 billion to the railways and nothing to coach operators.
Bala Dharmaraj, Joint Secretary, BOCI, India.
India has one fifth of the world’s population, with public transport and transport by bus and train accounting for 8% of the country’s GDP. 80% of the population regularly use public transport. Most of the people in India feel their Government did a very good job on lockdown, the country however has been severely impacted. There were no Government assistance for employees during the restrictions. Road tolls and fuel taxes are high in India and some help could be given here, however operators feel there is little appetite in Government to offer any help. It is hoped that some loan deferral and assistance from the World Bank will be forthcoming. Mr. Dharmaraj said that they would be looking for assistance from the world community to get moving, citing the importance of India to the international automotive community.
From listening to all the presentations there are so many similarities in the world markets, but there are differences in how each Government is approaching the problem, as also are their differences in how passengers are reacting. Social distancing is not something that is a big deal on the bus for most. Wearing masks and sanitisation is, however. Hopefully the Irish authorities are taking note of this before they make regulations that could be unnecessary and counterproductive, while public health and safety is paramount and trumps everything, it needs to be calculated carefully. One final observation is a little disturbing. One speaker said they were offering their staff counselling, while another commented that they were trying to arrange food parcels for their staff – Worlds apart.