National Express says more Britons shift to buses after rail strikes

National Express 170 272 passes through Somerleyton Station
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By Radhika Anilkumar

March 2 (Reuters) – National Express said on Thursday annual revenue surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time and its UK business turned a profit last year as people hopped on coaches to travel during rail strikes.

Shares in the public transport operator, which had been hammered by the pandemic, rose 12% as the company also resumed dividend payments for the first time since 2020 thanks to the recovery in passenger numbers.

National Express owns and leases buses and trains in twelve countries, with North America, Spain and the UK being its largest markets by revenue.

The company said revenue from its UK coaches more than doubled, as more people used buses to travel to airports and other cities across the country.

British rail workers have held several strike days in the past year, demanding higher pay amid rising inflation and a worsening cost of living crisis, causing disruption to travel across Britain.

The Birmingham-based company in December added more than 50,000 seats across its network to prepare for a rise in demand amid rail disruptions.

Its research found that nearly 10% of the people who first used their buses during the strikes were continuing to do so even on non-strike days, it said.

“Whilst the operating backdrop remains challenging, with inflationary pressures continuing in key markets, we expect to see that (growth) momentum continue,” Chief Executive Officer Ignacio Garat said in a statement.

National Express, which also operates school buses in the United States, said it has also secured increased rates for 2023 and 2024 to recover rising costs.

The company declared an annual dividend of 5 pence per share. Annual group revenue of 2.81 billion pounds ($3.37 billion) surpassed its 2019 levels, and was up about 24% from a year ago.

It reported an underlying operating profit of 48 million pounds for the year ended Dec. 31 for its UK business from a loss a year earlier.

($1 = 0.8340 pounds)

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