Business was only recovering for Assamese bus operator Anjit Bora when the second surge of Covid-19 and the following clamp down on interstate and intercity travel forced his entire fleet off the roads making him wonder how he will pay the next round of salaries to his staff. “The situation in January and February was okay. But from March it is very bad. Before May 13, we could operate at 50% capacity, but I could still not pay full salary to our staff,” he said over the phone. Now, with the travel restrictions in place, Bora says, the engines have fallen silent on his fleet of 30 buses.
The situation is echoed by bus operators across the country. As they struggle to stay in business, buying a new bus is not on the list of consideration for most and that reflects in the sales estimates for buses for the ongoing financial year.
About 40,000 buses are expected to be sold in FY22, as per Crisil
Research forecast. While that’s double of the 19,000 units sold last year, it’s still significantly lower from peak sales in FY17 when almost 100,000 buses were sold in India.
“The demand for buses is expected to remain the hardest hit with schools remaining shut, purchases by state transport undertakings being low owing to strained state finances, and tourist and intercity movement is only expected to pick-up post mass vaccination is achieved in the second half of the fiscal,” said Hetal Gandhi, director,
“Thus, despite near doubling of sales volumes in fiscal 2022, volumes are expected to remain at multi-year low,” she said.
The culture of work from home is not helping the case of bus makers either, said Shamsher Dewan, vice president and group head,
Limited. “The bus segment would continue to remain the most impacted,” he said.
The situation is eerily similar to last year when lockdowns across the country to arrest the spread of Covid-19 had derailed the business of the travel industry, putting millions of jobs in jeopardy, as ET reported in September.
This is in sharp contrast to segments like passenger vehicles where the need for personal means of transport during the pandemic are driving up the sales.
Just like buses, passenger three-wheeler sales too have been hard hit due to the pandemic as people minimise the use of shared transportation. Three-wheeler sales dipped to just 216,000 units in FY21, less than that in FY03 and prospects for the ongoing year remain bleak, experts said.
Meanwhile, fleet owners like Bora and bus makers can only hope for a pick-up in vaccination in India so that business could return to normalcy.