Bus giant Stagecoach has revealed annual profits plunged by more than 80% as lockdowns sent passenger numbers tumbling.
The firm reported underlying pre-tax profits of £17 million for the year to May 1, down from £90.9 million the previous year after seeing bus passenger numbers crash nearly 90% at one stage in the pandemic.
On a statutory basis, pre-tax profits fell to £24.7 million from £40.6 million and the group confirmed it would not pay any dividends for the year.
But boss Martin Griffiths said he was “optimistic” that demand will recover, with fare-paying passenger sales already bouncing back to stand at 68% of pre-Covid levels as at June 26.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Griffiths said: “What we’re seeing now is that the recovery is coming.
“We’re not going to see any immediate return to passenger levels we had two years ago. It will take a bit of time.”
But he said in time, bus demand will overtake 2019 levels amid the wider “net zero” push to reduce car and international travel, which he believes will offset the switch to hybrid working.
“Not only will we get back to (pre-Covid levels), but in time, we will go beyond it,” he said.
“Bus travel is going to be critical to the future of the country and the planet.”
The Government has helped support bus operators through the pandemic and Stagecoach said this should ensure it remains profitable.
“We will look to rebuild profitability closer to pre-Covid levels as the Covid-19 restrictions are eased,” it said.
Stagecoach also furloughed some of its staff, but said most had now returned to work, while it confirmed it will keep a tight rein on costs to offset ongoing pressure during the pandemic.