WILL POLITICS TRUMP ECONOMICS?
With the announcement by National Express that it was suspending its entire network of coach services from Monday 11 January due to the latest Covid-19 travel restrictions, further cuts to rail services were clearly not far behind. As Chris Hardy, Managing Director of National Express UK Coach, explained, ‘We have been providing an important service for essential travel needs. However, with tighter restrictions and passenger numbers falling, it is no longer appropriate to do this’.
In the early phases of the pandemic, bus and coach drivers were one of the sectors of the workforce worst affected by Covid-19, with staff putting themselves in harm’s way in order to provide essential services for key workers. The national rail network, Transport for London and regional metros have all been providing services for key workers throughout the pandemic, with the railwaymen and women in the frontline risking exposure to the virus.
As the pandemic seemed to be easing over the summer, train operators were encouraged by Government to run as full a service as possible, with the aim of carrying the maximum number of passengers within social distancing constraints. As ridership returned, there was an air of optimism. And while there was no equivalent of the hospitality industry’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme, it was clearly in the Government’s interests to encourage growth in ridership – and farebox revenue – to offset the costs of the Emergency Measures Agreements and then, with hindsight, its over-optimistically named successor Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements (ERMAs).