The Scottish Government has pledged to maintain the annual £260m in concessionary travel reimbursement and Bus Service Operator Grants for the bus industry, regardless of the fall in passengers.
Figures from Transport Scotland analysts suggest that concessionary bus journeys had dropped by 81% in the last two weeks – with further falls expected in light of the latest government guidance.
In a statement, the Scottish Government stressed that operators would receive additional cash matching 'the difference between actual payments and those previously forecasted levels'.
The pledge is intended to offset the impact that reduced demand on local services, still needed for key workers, and help protect the industry for the future. The arrangement will be kept under review, it added.
Cabinet secretary for transport, Michael Matheson, said: 'Over the next few months we will effectively make up the difference in concessionary travel and Bus Service Operator Grant payments. We will allow operators to access the £260m that we spend every year on supporting bus services, irrespective of the decline in passengers.
'This will help protect the industry, support our key workers and ultimately assist the nationwide response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
'I want to also thank the many public transport workers right across the sector who are enabling key workers to get to their places of work every day. Even though services have been scaled back due to reduced demand, I know many are working tirelessly to maintain punctual services our key workers can rely on.'
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has issued correspondence and guidance for local authorities to ensure that they continue to pay operators of home to school transport.
'We are actively working with COSLA on the detail of this in the context of national reliefs and supports. COSLA is also developing further guidance for local authorities and their partner providers, which will assist supported bus services over the coming days,' the Scottish Government said.
Paul White, director for industry body the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) in Scotland, said: 'CPT welcomes the Government's commitment to continue concessionary reimbursement and BSOG funding at pre-Covid-19 levels. This support is a vital element of the measures required to allow bus and coach operators to continue to operate lifeline services through this period of social isolation.
'Operators are working tirelessly to ensure that Scotland's bus network is robust enough to keep communities connected, providing socially necessary services and facilitating commuter trips for essential workers. To this end, we will continue to prioritise key routes such as those that serve medical centres and hospitals, with timetables that recognise NHS shift patterns.'
Many public transport providers have reduced services as significantly fewer people travel due to the latest advice. For updates from operators, please check www.travelinescotland.com before you travel or with your specific operator.
For the latest advice from NHS Scottish and the Scottish Government about COVID-19, including social distancing and stay at home advice visit www.nhsinform.scot.