The Flemish public transport company, De Lijn, has permanently lost 10% of its passengers due to corona. In 2021, De Lijn transported 42% fewer passengers than in pre-corona times, and 2022 will probably fall short of expectations. “Some of our customers have definitely chosen for other means of transport,” says Ann Schoubs, director-general of De Lijn.
In 2020, the company transported an average of 62% fewer passengers from March to December compared to the same period in 2019. The loss of passengers seems to be structural.
According to De Lijn’s estimations, the waning popularity of public transport led to a 108 million euros loss last year. Flemish authorities compensated for the loss. The government already paid a deficit of 67 million in 2020.
De Lijn is also worried about future revenues. For this year, Schoubs expects a 55 million euros loss because passengers will still be 20% lower. However, she hopes the company will recover gradually but still factors in a 40 million loss in 2023. In 2024, the loss is estimated at 20 million euros.
Schoubs fears that the loss of passengers is structural. Former customers of De Lijn started teleworking and opting for other modes of transport. “Cycling became popular, also for commuting, and the bicycle is a valuable alternative,” admits De Lijn.
Also, the number of student subscriptions took a plunge. “Students exchanged the bus for the bike. Especially the e-bike has become a tough competitor for the city bus,” noticed Schoubs. So now we’ll try to win over car drivers.” As a result, de Lijn assumes to have lost 10% of its passengers.
Also, the number of fare-dodgers increased significantly since the corona measures. This is because travelers have to get on board at the back, making it difficult for the driver to check tickets. The increase peaks at 40 or even 50% in urban areas, representing 20 to 30 million euros. Last year, De Lijn fined 35 000 fare-dodgers, more than in 2019, while the number of passengers was 40% lower.
This year, the company will focus on the punctuality of the buses and correct passenger information. According to a last year’s survey, these are the two most essential annoyances for travelers. In addition, since the arrival of Ann Schoubs, the company’s mission has been to become more customer-oriented. With her ‘Vision 2030’ plan, De Lijn focuses on innovation, sustainability, and customers.
De Lijn’s financial future doesn’t look very bright while, at the same time, the company faces several significant investments. For example, de Lijn needs to invest in electric mobility, rails, and outdated infrastructure.
De Lijn will start greening its fleet by the end of this year. By the end of 2021, De Lijn ordered 60 electric buses from Van Hool and VDL, and they will arrive by the end of 2022. The company also expects 128 new hybrid buses.