Go-Ahead cheers highest passenger numbers since start of pandemic

Transport giant Go-Ahead has seen passenger numbers recover to their highest level since the start of the pandemic as lockdown restrictions lift.

The group said its regional bus services are now carrying around 65% to 70% of pre-crisis passenger levels – peaking at more than 80% in some areas – having crashed to just a fifth of normal numbers in March.

It said “pent-up demand” is driving the recovery, as Britons go back to high streets and hospitality thanks to the reopening of sectors shut during lockdown.

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Go-Ahead, which also runs Govia Thameslink Railway and Southeastern, said its overall outlook for the full year has improved, with its London and international bus business set for a better-than-expected performance.

Go-Ahead’s outgoing chief executive David Brown said: “After more than a year of Covid-19 restrictions limiting travel, it is great to see our buses and trains carrying more passengers as these restrictions start to ease and people enjoy the benefits of communities and businesses reopening.

“There are more people using our services today than at any point over the pandemic and we are ready to safely welcome more people back to our buses and trains.”

He added: “As we emerge from the pandemic, public transport has a huge role to play in economic recovery, and an equally important role in tackling climate change as we encourage more people on to our services and away from private cars.”

Go-Ahead stock
Go-Ahead chief executive David Brown is retiring at the end of the year (Go-Ahead/PA)

The group said its reliance on emergency government coronavirus support is reducing and it is working with the Department for Transport on a path to a pure commercial model as demand recovers.

Its Southeastern and GTR rail contracts come to an end later this year, but the group also runs services internationally.

Go-Ahead said there is no change to break-even expectations for the rail division.

Last month, the group kicked off the search for a new boss after Mr Brown announced his plan to retire at the end of the year following a decade at the helm.

The industry veteran has spent nearly 40 years working in the transport industry, including as chief executive of London Buses for Go-Ahead London and managing director of surface transport at Transport for London, before he became chief at Go-Ahead in early 2011.