The UK’s transport operators have welcomed the government’s announcement of hefty new funding to keep bus services running while passenger numbers remain low due to coronavirus.
Over the weekend, the Department for Transport (DfT) unveiled £218.4m in additional cash for embattled bus operators, taking the total funding for the sector to over £700m.
That money will cover the next eight weeks, after which £27.3m in funding will be available every week for as long as is necessary.
First Group chief executive Matthew Gregory said that the timing of the new financing was crucial, with more people about to return to work and schools set to go back in September.
“The further funding packages confirmed by the UK government 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”, he said.
The FTSE 250 firm said it had increased services to 90 per cent of pre-coronavirus levels, with passenger demand at 40 per cent of what it used to be.
The chief executive of fellow transport firm Go Ahead Group David Brown echoed Gregory’s words, stressing that it was safe for commuters to use their services.
“As communities return to work, services reopen and people begin travelling again, we are seeing customers returning to public transport.
“However, passenger numbers are still below 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels across our networks”, he added. “While social distancing is in place and sections of society remain closed, we welcome the Government’s continued support to keeping these critical services running.
“With enhanced cleaning of our buses, mandatory wearing of face coverings, and guidance on social distancing and hygiene, customers can travel safely and with confidence on our services.”
Alongside the new funding package, the government also committed to setting out a new national bus strategy to support the sector in the future.