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TAS Transport Briefing

Comment and Analysis from the UK's leading passenger transport specialists

Economy slowdown reflected in further bus patronage fall

2.5% drop offset by 2% rise on London services

Bus demand in Great Britain fell slightly in the quarter ended 30 September 2011, according to new statistics published by the Department for Transport. The fall came amid continuing concerns about threat of a new recession in the wider UK economy, which saw another virtual standstill in the same three month period.


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Bus demand becomes victim of economic slowdown with 0.9% fall

Falls throughout the country still offset by small rise in London

Bus demand in Great Britain fell very slightly in the quarter ended 30 June 2011, according to new statistics published by the Department for Transport. The fall came amid continuing concerns about the sluggish growth in the wider UK economy, which saw little growth and flat or falling retail activity in the same three months.


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Cardiff Bus sees profits more than halved

Council owned bus operator Cardiff City Council saw results deteriorate sharply during the year to 31 March 2010, as operating profits fell by over half and a pre-tax loss was recorded ahead of an exceptional insurance credit.

Revenue was virtually unchanged during the year at £32.6m, but operating costs were up, albeit by less than inflation - rising 1.7% to £32.2m. The resulting operating profit of £0.39m was over 56% beliow the previous year's £0.9m, and achieved at a margin of 1.2% (last year: 2.8%).

Sharply increased net interest costs contributed to the deterioration, so that the previous year's surplus of £0.62m was turned into a loss of £0.33m, margins going from 1.9% to -1.0%. The exceptional items refer to the release of provisions in the company's self-insurance fund, following advice from its insurers.

More details on the TAS Business Monitor web site


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Phew! So that’s all right then! or is it?

Some brief thoughts on yesterday's spending announcements, though clearly much detail is awaited, particularly on the fate of major rail projects such as GWML electrification and new trains for the InterCity routes and Thameslink.

I think we have to see the review in the context of passenger transport policy as a whole, rather than be too mode specific. And in all the circumstances, the industry has done pretty well.

Maintainence of investment in Metrolink, funding Midland Metro and Nottingham Express Transit plus North West rail electrification and Crossrail will all provide crucial improvements in our transport infrastructure, with consequent benefits to the long term health and efficiency of the economy as a whole and public transport in particular. To do all this and maintain at least some financial assistance for the bus industry looks like a good deal to me.

The worry however comes in the cuts in resource funding for local authorities, and the abolition of most ring-fenced grants. History tells us that transport generally and buses in particular do badly in those situations - if congestion gets worse over the next decade and nobody has the resources to help the bus get through the traffic, then we potentially face the same vicious circle of rising costs, falling productivity and longer journey times that has been the feature of too many parts of the country over the last decade.

No doubt if we face service cuts and fare increases on our bus networks, there will be the usual siren voices calling for ever more regulatory change. But buses, like other transport modes, need top quality infrastructure to do their job really well. My worry is that the current climate of policy, finance and opinion will not deliver that - and changing the regulatory system would make no difference whatever.


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and tagged with Rail, Economy, Recession, Bus fares, Railways, Arriva, Stagecoach, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead Group, National Express Group

 

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Sudden recession drop tips Reading into the red

Reading Transport, the council-owned bus operator, recorded a £1.45m pre-tax loss during the year to 4 October 2009, as the impact of the recession drove turnover down by over 3%, according to its annual accounts.

The directors report that revenue fell during the year by 3.3% to £26.2m, following a fall in patronage from March 2009 onwards prompted by the effects of the recession. Operating costs meanwhile rose by 1.3%. The resulting operating loss of £109,000 represented a margin of 0.4% against turnover, compared with a profit of 4.2% in 2008. Interest and pension finance costs drove the pre-tax loss to £1.45m, compared with the profit of £0.5m in the previous year -  a loss ,margin of 5.5% compared with the previous period's 1.2% profit.

A programme of overhead reduction, fare changes and service cuts was implemented from May 2009 onwards, which the report says addressed the issues and returned the company profitability at the start of the 2009/10 financial year. Two directors - finance director Mr J Carney and operations director S Simpson were amongst the casualties of the problems, both leaving the board in November 2009 after a financial settlement which saw them share a total of £41,000 in compensation for loss of office.

Other cutbacks included the abandonment of the company's high-profile experiment with bio-ethanol fuelled vehicles: in a vivid illustration of the costs to the industry of 'going green', the company says that the abandonment of the trials will result in savings of over £350,000 in a full year.

For more information, please see TAS Business Monitor


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Recession dents Brighton profits

Award-winning operator Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company saw profits fall during the year ended 27 June 2009, according to its annual accounts. Results were affected by the onset of the recession and changes in traffic patterns following the introduction of England-wide free concessionary travel in April 2008.

Turnover in the business rose by 7.7% to £49.9m, whilst operating costs were over 10% higher at £45.4m. The directors report that revenue growth was driven largely by concessionary travel and fares increases, since commercial paid-for journeys fell by 0.1%, and it is estimated that there was a switch of around 2% from paid to free travel.

Revenue growth was outstripped by the rises in operating costs, particularly labour, fuel and insurance claims to produce the deterioration in operating profit. At £4.5m, this was 11.7% down on the previous year, representing a margin of 9.1% (last year 11.1%). The pre-tax profit was 9.8% lower at £4.6m for a margin of 9.2% (last year: 11%).


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Arriva sees 50% profit fall in 2009

Takeover target Arriva saw operating and pre-tax profits fall sharply ahead of an exceptional pension credit in the year to 31 December 2009, according to its annual accounts.

Turnover growth in the business was limited to 3.5%, though this was after a £150m cut in rail revenues caused by reduced track access charges feeding through into lower subsidies. Operating costs were 5.7% ahead, leaving operating profits 33.9% lower at £113.5m - a margin of just 3.6% (down from 5.6% in 2008).

A sharp increase in net financing costs meant that the company's pre-tax profit before exceptional items was 50% lower. The exceptional item represents a curtailment credit arising from the pension plan in Arriva Passenger Services.

The change to UK rail access charges led to a 16% fall in turnover in the division, whilst profits were also down from £31.5m last year to just under £10m this year. The UK bus division saw turnover growth of just over 4%, but profit margins fell back from 10.8% to 9.5%. The European division saw turnover growth of 15.7%, as earlier acqusiitions worked through and extra contracts were won. However, margins also fell back, from 4.7% to 2.1%.

Fuller report on the TAS Business Monitor web site.


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and tagged with bus profits, Buses, Demand, Rail, Economy, Recession, Trains, Train, Railways, Arriva

 

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National Express loses £52.7m in 2009

Bus, coach and train giant National Express Group subsided to a £52.7m loss after taking into account huge exceptional charges, in the year to 31 December 2009, according to the company's annual report.

The £131m worth of exceptional charges arose from the group's exit from the East Coast rail franchise last autumn (which cost a total of £64m), together with losses on the disposal of its London bus operations last summer, and other reorganisation costs and book losses. However, even before these charges, the group's operating profits were almost 48% down on the 2008 figure.

The company's turnover was 2.2% lower than the 2008 figure at £2,711m, as a result of the sale of the Travel London companies to Netherlands Railways (now Abellio) in the summer of 2009 and the ending of the InterCity East Coast rail operation in November. Meanwhile,  the rise in operating costs was limited to around prevailing levels of inflation, rising by 1.2% to £2,612m. The resulting operating profit of £99.4m compared with the previous year's £190.4m - a fall of 47.8%.

Despite the difficult year, the segmental analysis shows strong performance in the US division, with rises in both turnover and margins. There were revenue gains in the European operations as well, with volume growth of over 13%, but margins fell by almost half.  Margins on the UK bus division - once the backbone of the group's profit performance - fell again and were below 8%. The bright spot on profits was the UK coach division, which saw margins improve from 10% to 14% despite a reduction of 3.6% in revenues.

More on the TAS Business Monitor


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and tagged with bus profits, Rail, Recession, Trains, Public Transport, Train, National Express, National Express Groups

 

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First's Manchester profits down by 26%

Bus operator First Manchester saw profit levels fall sharply in the year to 28 March 2009, according to its annual accounts. Operating profits fell by more than a quarter, whilst pre-tax profits were down by almost half at the business, which operates local bus services throughout the northern part of Greater Manchester.

The figures show that revenue growth at the 875 vehicle company was slightly ahead of prevailing rates of inflation, climbing by 3.5% to £102.2m. However, rising fuel costs and other impacts meant that operating costs rose at almost double this rate - up by 6.4% to £95.7m.

The resulting operating profit was down by 26% to £6.5m, depressing margins from last year's 8.9% to just 6.4%. The previous year's net interest earnings turned into an expense, so that the deterioration in pre-tax profit was much larger, at 45.1%. The company's return on assets fell by more than half to 4.7%.

For more information, visit TAS Business Monitor


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Retail property vacancies spell bad news for buses

At first sight, today’s news about the number of vacant properties in town centres may seem to have little to do with transport or buses. In fact, the figures are very important indeed, because they tell us a great deal about the overall prosperity of our town and city centres – upon which the viability and success of our local transport networks depend.

For those who missed the story, it concerned the results of a survey undertaken by Local Data Company (LDC), and previewed at the British Property Federation (BPF) Retail Summit on 10 February.

LDC’s survey of over 700 town centres showed that overall shop vacancy has very nearly doubled in England and Wales since the end of 2008. All regions saw a jump in vacancy reflected in the 2009 mid-year figures, but these rates have moderated significantly in this survey.

The northern regions, whose centres dominate the vacancy data, show the highest vacancy rates, with the North East particularly badly hit at 14%. The South and East, including London, saw a 33% increase in vacancy rates in the second half of 2009, with average vacancy at just around 9%.

Amongst the places particularly badly hit are Wolverhampton, with 23.9% of its shops standing empty, closely followed by Bradford, Middlesbrough and Sheffield. In the medium sized centre category, Margate tops this depressing league table, with 27.2% of shops empty.

So why should this concern bus operators? And why should we take the figures as a point of concern about patronage and revenue trends?

Well, for a start, we know that 28.8% of all bus trips are for shopping purposes. Then there’s another 19.7% of trips undertaken for commuting, plus 10.6% on personal business and 1.5% on business*. The nature of our local transport networks, and of the pattern of land use development generally in recent years, means that overwhelmingly these trips will be to town and city centres. Thus, something approaching 60% of all bus trips will be dependent on the attractiveness, health and vibrancy of these areas.

The importance of town centres as trip generators for public transport operators was underlined a couple of years ago in work done for the Commission for Integrated Transport, which we highlight in our Bus Industry Monitor analysis of the bus market.

It will be seen that any movement away from traditional town centres has a disproportionate effect on the number of people who use public transport, especially the bus. Although not shown in the table, a there is a similar trend for other leisure activities.

Destination Car Park & Ride Public Transport Walk & Cycle Taxi & Other
Nearest Town / City Centre 44% 2% 30% 23% 2%
Other Town / City Centre 66% 2% 20% 12% 1%
Local Centre 49% 0% 10% 40% 1%
Out of Town Retail 85% 0% 7% 6% 1%
Edge of Town Retail 82% 0% 8% 9% 0%
Local Convenience Store 42% 0% 2% 54% 1%
Large Supermarket 81% 0% 5% 12% 1%

The Department for Transport’s quarterly statistics for bus patronage for the summer quarter last year showed some worrying trends on bus patronage – particularly in the PTE areas. The LDC figures might start to explain why – and also suggest that we should not look for an upturn anytime soon.

More information on the report, including a downloadable copy, is available from the British Property Federation website.

For more on the CfIT report in 2006, see this release which contains links to the full document.

* - National Travel Survey 2008, Department for Transport.


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Recession wipes out post-concessions bus patronage growth in PTE areas

The latest quarterly patronage statistics for bus and light rail services in Great Britain, published by the Department for Transport, show that the onset of the economic recession has driven bus patronage in the major English conurbations down to record lows.

As a result, services in these areas have lost all the gains in passenger numbers that resulted from the introduction of free concessionary fares in 2006.

The DfT statistics show that bus patronage fell during the summer (June-October) quarter compared with the previous quarter in all areas of the country. The seasonally adjusted index shows a fall of 0.1% in London, 0.4% in the English Shire areas and 0.9% in Wales and Scotland. However, the fall was a much larger 3.25% in the six English conurbations covered by Passenger Transport Executives. These are Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

When the summer’s figures are compared with the same quarter last year, the picture is also bleak, again with falls in all areas: 0.4% in London, 3.1% in the English shire areas and 2.6% in Scotland and Wales. But the fall recorded in the PTE areas is double this level at 6.2%.

When comparing the figures with those of summer 2008, before the financial crisis hit home, bus patronage is still 3.2% higher in London, but 4.7% down in the PTE areas, 1.1% down in the shires and flat in the shires.

The patronage index for the PTE areas was 89.4 in the summer 2009 quarter, compared with a previous low of 90.7 in the winter of 2005/06, immediately before the introduction of free concessionary travel in England. The base of 100 is taken as the 2000/01.

Transport Statistics Bulletin: Bus and Light Rail Statistics GB, Q3 2009 www.dft.gov.uk. For a more detailed analysis, see the TAS Business Monitor subscription web site.


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