Passenger levels on trains and buses across Liverpool city region are now at, or close to, 90% of pre-pandemic levels, new figures show. Tony McDonough reports
Passenger levels on trains and buses are now not far off pre-pandemic levels, latest figures show.
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority says passenger levels on Merseyrail, which is set to return to a 15-minute service in early May, are now at 90% of pre-pandemic levels. More than 100,000 people travelled by train to Aintree during the Grand National meeting.
On the city region bus network, passenger numbers “on some days” are close to 90% of pre-COVID levels. Cllr Liam Robinson, Transport Portfolio Holder for the CA says service levels across the public transport network had to be maintained if the city region economy is to bounce back.
“Passengers are returning in large numbers, helping to fuel a recovery in our vital leisure, hospitality and retail sectors,” said Cllr Robinson. “That’s why it’s vital that we don’t see bus or rail services reduced or, worse, cut altogether.”
Passenger numbers on trains and business plummeted during the pandemic, particularly during periods of lockdown. However, transport companies had to maintain a level of service to make sure key workers could get to their workplaces.
This hit revenues and profits at Merseyrail but the return of passengers has turned a loss of £2.7m last year into a pre-tax profit of £2.7m for the 12 months to January 8, 2022. However, profits are still well below the £18.1m achieved in the year before COVID hit.
Regional rail hub Liverpool Lime Street has been named as the best performing station in the country by Network Rail, with passenger numbers the highest of any terminus train station in England. Footfall at the station in March of this year was almost one fifth (17%) higher than in the same month in 2019.
Travel patterns have changed however, with large amounts of home working meaning that peak time services are less busy than pre-pandemic. Later morning and off-peak services though are carrying greater numbers of passengers, suggesting that those people that can are taking advantage of flexible office hours to skip the morning rush.
Evening and weekend services are as busy, and sometimes busier, than before the pandemic – a trend reflected in the strong recovery reported by the Liverpool city region’s retail and hospitality sectors, where spending is outperforming the national average.
Cllr Robinson added: “As the pandemic hit our region in spring 2020, people did what was asked of them by only making essential journeys to help stop the spread of Coronavirus. And once lockdown was lifted, ongoing social distancing requirements greatly reduced capacity on the network
“Travel patterns may have changed, with fewer people travelling at peak times and more during late mornings as well as evenings and weekends, but the demand on the network is as strong as it has been and looks set to grow further.
“That’s why we’re investing hundreds of millions of pounds in improving, upgrading and integrating the city region transport network – including the roll-out of new trains and hydrogen buses, the development of hundreds of kilometres of safe walking and cycling routes and the building of new rail stations.”