The Public Transport Industry Struggles to Recover from the Effects of the Pandemic

Since the outbreak of Coronavirus in 2019 the public transport industry has experienced unprecedented financial loss and passenger volumes are yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. This trend is not unique to the United Kingdom (U.K), ridership decline in public transport and slow recovery has impacted public transport globally despite various levels of support from respective governments.

Following national lockdown measures in the U.K, ridership levels on buses outside of London fell to 11% of levels reported pre-pandemic due to urges from the UK Government to choose ‘safer’ private travel options, promoting travelling by car [1]. Though short-term impacts to public transport were to be expected, long term impacts have actualised as more citizens have committed to buying and using private vehicles to commute.  Though for some, working from home has removed the integral role of public transport in their daily commutes as the nature of working has transformed.   

Although figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) show that in the second quarter of 2022 new vehicle registrations in the bus and coach market in the U.K grew by 17.9% compared to 2021, this recovery remains -46.4% down from the pre-pandemic five-year average [2]. To offset the losses and operator concerns for declined passenger levels caused by the pandemic, the U.K Government has provided nearly £2 billion in relief funding to ensure that vital bus routes remain viable for the public [3].  

Similarly, in the United States (U.S), the motorcoach industry recorded an 82.6% loss of business in 2020 due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across the country, according to the American Bus Association (ABA) [4]. A return to similar pre-pandemic ridership is not expected until 2023, with commuter services being down 74.3% in 2022. Even with financial support from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and $2 billion from the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) program, the ABA holds that these efforts are not effective enough to guarantee essential services.  

In a generalised European context, the pandemic had a severe impact upon urban public transport and the continent saw a 90% decline in passenger levels in spring 2020 while the use of private and individual cars had increased [5]. In Italy, pre-pandemic passenger levels hit 16 million trips a day whereas by December 2020 the industry experienced a recorded average loss of 10.9 million passengers a day, equating to a 68% decline in demand. Despite efforts from public authorities in Europe through rescue packages, demand for transport is yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. 

Overall, it is evident that the pandemic has had profound economic and societal effects on public transport globally, therefore reshaping the way in which transport is used, and how the industry operates to account for multiple national-wide lockdowns. In many cases, especially in the U.K and the U.S, government funding has not been effective enough in offsetting the financial losses experienced by transport operators. This in turn, has had a detrimental effect on operator confidence in their fleets and their abilities to provide vital services.

Despite slow recovery trends, and expectations of recovery in 2023 for some countries, the evidence of increasing (albeit, slow) ridership post-pandemic signifies that transport is an integral part of infrastructure for public mobility.


[1] Local Government Association, “The future of public transport and the role of Local Government”, 18 January 2021. Available: [Accessed 30/08/22] 


[2] Society of Motor Manufacturers, “Bus and coach demand struggles to recover from pandemic”, 16 August 2022. Available: [Accessed 30/08/22] 


[3] Department for Transport, £130 million to protect bus services across the country”, 19 August 2022. Available: [Accessed 24/08/22] 


[4] American Bus Association, “COVID Pandemic Continues to Rock Motorcoach Industry as Recovery is Slow”, 3 February 2022. Available: [Accessed 31/08/22] 


[5] European Parliament, “Relaunching transport and tourism in the EU after COVID-19” February 2022. Available: [Accessed 31/08/22]