COVID-19 Bus

David Leah, Senior Analyst

28 January 2021

Will the global bus industry suffer from long COVID?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a seismic impact on the global bus market. Not only was the industry one of the first to be hit, but it also suffered more than most and will likely be one of the last to recover. To put this into context, sales fell by around a third in 2020, to their lowest level in 15 years.

Although passenger demand has improved since the first wave of COVID-19, bus ridership and confidence levels remain well below pre-pandemic levels as countries continue to try and supress the virus, until herd immunity is achieved. Until then, the advice in many countries is to work from home and avoid public transport where possible. This has led to changes in consumer behaviour and the emergence of new mobility patterns. In turn, this raises questions about the long-term effects on the global bus market. Most pertinently, will the industry itself suffer from a degree of so-called long COVID?

While these threats have been bubbling under the surface for some time, the virus crisis has undoubtedly brought them to the fore, giving OEMs and bus operators less time and fewer financial resources to respond to these external pressures. For example, there are signs that consumers are shifting towards personal transport modes, not least increased private vehicle ownership and micro-mobility. The latter, however, can be viewed as an opportunity as much as a threat, given that it provides an integrated and connected multimodal solution to the last-mile dilemma. Another behavioural change to emerge from the pandemic is the rise in remote working and online shopping – and this looks set to become the new normal in a post-COVID world.

While these threats to bus patronage have accelerated since the outbreak of the virus, the flipside of the coin is that the crisis has spurred on a ‘green recovery’ by policy makers to curb emissions and support its economic response. This means more government support and investment into clean energy and clean transport – such as zero emission buses – which should help drive demand for buses over the forecast horizon.