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Time to stop advising people to avoid public transport – FirstGroup boss

Rail and bus operator FirstGroup claims it is time to promote ‘the safe use of public transport’.

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FirstGroup has enhanced cleaning and social distancing on its transport (Andrew Milligan/PA)

FirstGroup has enhanced cleaning and social distancing on its transport (Andrew Milligan/PA)

FirstGroup has enhanced cleaning and social distancing on its transport (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Transport giant FirstGroup has urged the Government to stop encouraging people to avoid trains and buses.

Chief executive Matthew Gregory claimed it is time to “move away” from appealing to passengers not to use public transport for non-essential journeys.

Despite coronavirus lockdown restrictions easing in recent weeks, the Department for Transport continues to tell people to “stay off public transport if they can” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Gregory said: “Face coverings are now mandatory on public transport and I think with that we can change the message to the fact that public transportation is safe.

“We’ve enhanced the cleaning, we’ve enhanced the disinfectant, we’ve dealt with social distancing properly to try and avoid crowding.

“We’ve made this case to Government to start moving away from that avoiding public transport (message) because we have to get the economy moving again, people want to travel again and move again.

“If we’re revitalising the hospitality industry, then we want people to go on public transportation, we don’t want them getting in their cars and having congestion and air pollution.

“It was right at the time, but it is time now to move away from that messaging to something more that promotes the safe use of public transport.”

It was right at the time, but it is time now to move away from that messaging to something more that promotes the safe use of public transportMatthew Gregory, FirstGroup

Latest figures show that road traffic has returned to 83% of pre-lockdown levels, but train use across Britain and bus use outside London is at 16% and 29% respectively.

Passenger watchdog Transport Focus has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to review the Government’s communication strategy.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: “It seems unfair that people who don’t have alternatives to public transport may be put off using it due to unclear or inconsistent messages.

“People need to be clear on whether they can or cannot use public transport.

“The Government and transport industry must urgently review the message it puts out.”

FirstGroup is Britain’s largest bus company and also a major train operator.

It saw its shares tumble by 23% on Wednesday after revealing a “material uncertainty” over its ability to continue as a going concern as its pre-tax losses widened to £300 million for the year to March 31.

PA