Lothian Buses count £30m cost of Covid-19 passenger collapse

Passenger journeys on buses in Edinburgh dropped below one million during the peak of the pandemic.

Monday, 10th August 2020, 7:30 am
Passenger numbers on Lothian Buses dropped below one million in April

Empty buses circulating Edinburgh during lockdown cost Lothian Buses an estimated £30m as the full impact of plummeting passenger numbers in the Capital can be revealed.

Lothian Buses said throughout the pandemic that passenger numbers slumped by around 90 per cent at the height of lockdown, but fresh figures released to the Evening News show the stark drop-off in the use of public transport.

In March, the first month with the full lockdown, passenger figures still sat at just under 6,500,000 journeys made by passengers across the month.

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That number dropped to under one million journeys in April, recovering slightly to 1.1 million in May with a further increase to 1.5 million in June.

Assuming a full single fare for each journey, it means the council-owned bus company lost out on £29.5 million in passenger revenue when compared to March.

The resulting financial crisis at the bus company saw the company furlough a total of 1,880 staff by April 15, including more than 1,400 drivers and 200 engineers.

As of July 3, more than 1,200 drivers and 1,600 staff members were furloughed by the company but those numbers are likely to have reduced further as Lothian restarted several of their cancelled bus routes last month.

However, the furlough scheme failed to avoid the cancellation of the annual £6m dividend to Edinburgh City Council which the council expects not to receive in 2020/21 and potentially for several years.

Despite this, the company found almost £150,000 to pay in compensation their controversial former managing director Richard Hall who resigned in February, in addition to his salary of more than £170,000.

His payment of £323,091 is equal to five per cent of the cancelled annual dividend.

A spokesman for Lothian Buses said: “In April, with the country in full lockdown, only critical service workers were travelling and therefore customer usage plummeted.

“To save costs and protect jobs we placed those colleagues not required in the Government’s Job Retention Scheme.”

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Cllr Kevin Lang said the company was “right” to take the action it did.

He said: “It’s clear that lockdown and the early government advice against using buses had a massive impact on Lothian and the company was right to take swift and early action in response.

“However the picture today is very different with schools returning, shops and restaurants reopening and more people going back to work.

“I’m concerned that a number of key bus services have still not returned, including night time services which are particularly important for those doing shift work.

“Lothian has a critical role in getting the city moving again but we need more services to do that”.

Conservative transport spokesperson, Cllr Susan Webber added: “I am delighted that a company of the reputation of Lothian Buses saw the foresight of taking advantage of the furlough scheme and I also take heart that we are seeing a reduction in the number of staff on furlough.

“As staff go back to work I hope to see passenger numbers follow.”

Councillor Lesley Macinnes, transport convener, said: ““This is a pandemic which has impacted the City in a great number of ways, including our ability to travel, go to work and meet our loved ones.

“Despite the challenges, Lothian and Edinburgh Tram have been able to provide us with a level of safe and accessible public transport throughout the pandemic - from helping key workers to travel at the height of the crisis to preparing for pupils’ return to school next week.

“As restrictions lift and services increase, we’re seeing more and more people get back on the bus and tram to take fast, efficient journeys.

“It’s absolutely vital, however, that we all adhere to the Scottish Government’s latest guidelines, including the use of face coverings on public transport.

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