English bus operators handed GBP170M virus bailout

LONDON (AFP) – Britain announced yesterday that it will pump almost GBP170 million into bus companies in England to safeguard services, after demand was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rescue, worth the equivalent of nearly EUR192 million, will ensure buses can continue to transport people who are unable to work from home, the government said in a statement.

“Our buses are a lifeline for people who need to travel for work or to buy food – including our emergency services and NHS (National Health Service) staff – and it’s absolutely vital we do all we can to keep the sector running,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

“This multimillion-pound investment will protect crucial local transport links across England, bolstering the sector and minimising disruption for passengers in the long term.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) added that bus operators will be required to maintain up to half of normal service levels.

They must also allow adequate social distancing space between passengers, and keep them informed about revised operating timetables.

The package, which will be paid over a 12-week period under the new COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant, has been agreed with bus operators.

The firms will continue to receive GBP200 million of existing grants to help recover some fuel costs.

Finance Minister Rishi Sunak added that the package would hand a lifeline to essential staff including those working for the NHS.

“It’s vital people protect our NHS by staying at home during the outbreak – but we also need to ensure that doctors, nurses and other key workers, can travel to and from their jobs,” Sunak said.