FirstGroup shares rise amid Government support

Shares of Aberdeen-based bus and rail giant FirstGroup plc rose about 6% on Monday as it welcomed the extension of funding from the UK Department for Transport (DfT) to support vital services by regional bus operators in England during the coronavirus pandemic.

FirstGroup also welcomed the Scottish government’s announcement of additional expenditure of up to £68 million to extend to November 8 the similar funding scheme it has in place for Scotland’s bus operators.

Shares of Perth-based transport firm Stagecoach also rose on Monday — by about 12%.

“The new funding round of £218.4m for the industry under the COVID-19 Bus Service Support Grant Restart (CBSSG Restart) programme extends the arrangements previously announced at the end of May for the next eight weeks,” said FirstGroup.

“Furthermore, the Government has confirmed that rolling funding of up to £27.3m per week will continue to be made available under the programme thereafter, until such time as it is no longer needed.

“This commitment, on substantially the same terms as previously announced, demonstrates the value placed on bus services to support the restart of local economies, get people back to work and children back to school from September.

“The programme has already allowed the industry to increase bus service capacity while maintaining social distancing in support of our communities as Government guidance on use of public transport services has begun to ease.

“First Bus operations across England have increased operated mileage from c.40% to almost 90% of pre-pandemic levels, with passenger volumes increasing from c.10% to c.40% since the low point.”

FirstGroup CEO Matthew Gregory said: “The further funding packages confirmed by the UK and Scottish Governments enable us to keep people travelling safely on our essential services, allowing social distancing to be maintained on our vehicles.

“Bus networks are vitally important to local economies, both now as people return to education and workplaces, and in the future as they offer a sustainable transport alternative to the car.

“Recently we have introduced a number of additional measures to ensure we continue offering a safe experience for our customers and also help them to make more informed travel decisions.

“This includes seat signage, enhanced and long-lasting anti-viral cleaning regimes, and upgrades to our mobile app so that customers can check in real time how full each bus is and the availability of wheelchair spaces.

“In the last few weeks we began two more such initiatives, a pilot scheme in Bristol which allows key workers to book reservations on specific buses, and a new tool for passengers initially launched in Glasgow, which predicts how busy a given bus will be depending on the time of day, for up to seven days in advance.

“I want to express my thanks to our people who are working so hard to keep our crucial bus services running for our communities.”