Bus services in Scotland will be supported with almost £50m in funding as the country moves into phase two out of lockdown.
The £46.7m funding pot will assist operators to ramp up services over the next two months, with a higher volume of passengers expected.
On Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon announced the shift to phase two and revealed face coverings will be mandatory on all public transport from next week.
Bus travel typically makes up around three-quarters of all public transport journeys.
Officials predict the further easing of lockdown restrictions – including the resumption of work at factories, construction sites, universities and colleges and most shops – could see up to 55% having to travel to work, as opposed to 30% in full lockdown.
That means passengers on public transport could increase by around a third from the current levels of 225,000 a day.
But with two-metre social distancing to remain in place for now, the Scottish Government cash is intended to cover the loss of fares bus companies expect from reduced capacity.
Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “We have already been maintaining the value of concessionary travel and bus service operators grant payments at the levels forecast before the crisis.
“So far, £34.3m has been provided across 155 operators – but I know that this is a difficult time for our bus industry and that physical distancing will impact fare-paying passenger revenues significantly.
“Communities rely on bus services and this additional funding of £46.7m seeks to serve the anticipated travel needs of those communities, while keeping them safe, by enabling physical distancing in these unprecedented times.”
He added: “As a result of physical distancing measures, public transport is operating at around 10-20% of normal capacity at this time.
“While the Scottish Government will continue to do what it can to support our bus industry and our public transport network, it is important that everyone plays their part in helping to keep Scotland moving for those that need to travel most.
“Work from home if you can and stay local when you do need to head out. Walk, wheel or cycle for your health, our environment and to help manage demand on the transport network.
“If you need to travel on public transport, see if you can avoid peak times and try to plan ahead.
“While on transport, wear a face covering and remember to frequently use hand sanitiser.”
Paul White, director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) union in Scotland, said: “We’re pleased the Scottish Government recognises the important role the bus network is playing in helping people return to work safely and is working with us to ensure a more comprehensive network is in place.
“Operators are working around the clock to get more buses on our roads as quickly as possible.
“This funding is designed to cover the costs associated with the running of an increased network, but with significantly reduced capacity, until passenger numbers are able to return to normal levels.
“We will continue working with passengers, businesses and local authorities to provide a safe, flexible bus network which allows those who need it to make their essential journeys.”
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