The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically transformed the operating environment for road transport companies around the globe. In Sweden, government restrictions hit the passenger transport sector particularly hard, with bus companies losing 90% of their income and business almost overnight.
As Sweden is a large and sparsely populated country, a well-functioning transport system is an absolutely crucial part of the fabric of society. IRU member the Swedish Bus and Coach Federation has been working hard along with its umbrella organisation, the Swedish Confederation of Transport Enterprises, to get its members the government support they so desperately need.
Anna Grönlund, Deputy Managing Director of The Swedish Bus and Coach Federation, explains the impact of the pandemic on the sector and outlines the support it needs from the Swedish government.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on the Swedish bus and coach sector?
I remember one of our member companies calling me from Austria in early 2020 to ask if I had any advice on what to think about before the trip home by bus with Swedish travelers – many had heard about a new virus from China and parts of Europe were preparing to close their borders. Then I did not know much, but soon I became aware. Now, a year later, we are conducting a survey among our member companies and we have discovered that many have seen a decline in business of over 90 percent since February 2020.
Which companies have been particularly affected?
The entire bus industry has been affected – from companies that run scheduled, public services contracted by Swedish public transport authorities and municipalities to those that run commercial scheduled services and tourist routes. We do not currently know how big the consequences will be in the end. The government's support package has helped, but in Sweden, unfortunately, the payments have been made with a large backlog, which has made it difficult for companies to plan for their operations and employees in the crisis.
Unfortunately, not all companies have survived the pandemic, with bankruptcies throughout the bus and coach sector and a large number of jobs lost. In 2020, we saw 11 bankruptcies, but as many companies have now sold what they can sell, dismissed staff and tried to postpone installments and loans they stand on the edge of survival. It will be a tough spring for the sector.
What do you need from the Swedish government?
In order for the Swedish transport sector and the bus industry to be able to weather the pandemic, extended government support measures are needed. Since April, the Swedish Bus and Coach Federation has been in talks with the Swedish government about special targeted support for grounded tourist buses. But the government has not offered special support to any industry, even those that have been hit as hard as coach tourism.
In parallel with the crisis, Sweden has the world's most ambitious climate goals and emissions from the transport sector need to be decreased by 70% by 2030. While the climate goals are welcome, they represent a major challenge for transport companies. Long-term political measures and strong government support are needed for green economic recovery.
For Sweden, it is crucial to have positive conditions for renewable fuels in the future. In the Nordics, the use of renewable fuels, along with electrification, is seen as the best way to a sustainable transport sector. The work of IRU to support its Swedish members has been very important in this area.
IRU, along with its members, will continue urging governments to provide the necessary support to road transport sector to enable it to play its central role in fighting the pandemic and supporting economic recovery.