Bus and train gains push up profits at FirstGroup

Marion Dakers

SPORT company FirstGroup credited a surge in passengers and tighter cost control for its 14.3 per cent rise in underlying profit for the first half of the year yesterday.

The group’s pre-tax profit nearly trebled to £82m, while profit from continuing operations gained more than 14 per cent to £77.7m during the six months to October.

The firm used its cashflow and favourable currency rates to pay down 7.7 per cent of its debt pile, which now stands at £2.19bn, and raise its dividend seven per cent to 7.12p.

“We have exceeded our goal for cash generation and we have increased our target for the year from £150m to £180m, and most importantly this is excluding business disposal proceeds,” said chief executive Tim O’Toole, who replaced founder Moir Lockhead on 1 November. “We were still able to deliver despite challenging conditions.”

Rail operations, which include the First Capital Connect and First Great Western lines, gained 4.4 per cent in passenger revenues.

UK bus operations, which carry 3m passengers a day, saw revenue rise by 1.3 per cent. However, revenue fell 0.9 per cent at the group’s US school bus business, First Student.

First Transit, which provides outsourced transit services in the US, enjoyed a 5.5 per cent rise in revenue.