Patronage improvements accelerating at UK bus division


FirstGroup has reported an “encouraging acceleration” in the rate of patronage recovery in recent weeks at its UK bus division.

In an update to the City this morning, the Aberdeen-based group says passenger volumes across the division have increased from around 10% of pre-pandemic levels at the low point to more than 50% last week.

The division has recently increased operated mileage to almost 90% of pre-pandemic levels to provide more capacity as demand increases, even as social distancing restrictions remain in place.

“In August we welcomed the UK Government’s extension of funding to support the provision of these vital services by regional bus operators in England,” the group added.

“The COVID-19 Bus Service Support Grant Restart programme is now in place on a rolling basis until such time as it is no longer needed, with an eight week notice period.”

Meanwhile, passenger volumes at the group’s rail operations have increased modestly during the summer but still remain at around 30% of pre-pandemic levels on average.

FirstGroup added: “Our rail franchises have been operating under the terms of the Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) put in place by the UK Government and have recently increased capacity to c.90% of pre-pandemic levels on average to support the return to places of work and schools.”

The group said that while the EMA for Great Western Railway was extended to at least June 26, 2021 earlier this month, discussions are progressing with the DfT about the other franchises which are under EMAs until 20 September 2020.

Meanwhile, First also revealed a stronger than expected financial performance, with adjusted operating profit and cash from operations ahead of its expectations in recent months, driven by better revenue recovery and strong cost control

As a result, the group is now expecting to generate a small adjusted operating profit in the seasonally weaker first half of the financial year.

“Although the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the group continues to evolve, clarity is improving over time,” said chief executive Matthew Gregory. “We continue to take all necessary action to protect the business and to ensure the group is in the most robust position possible to deliver on our strategic plans.”

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