Shares in bus operators have risen on news that England’s bus companies will get £167m from the government to help them operate during the coronavirus pandemic.
The investment will protect crucial local transport links for those unable to work from home, according to transport secretary Grant Shapps.
In exchange, bus operators will have to run up to 50% of their normal service.
They must also allow enough social distancing space between passengers and keep them informed about any timetable revisions.
Stagecoach closed up 4.5% on Friday, with Go-ahead Group up 12.9% and FirstGroup up 10.1%.
The COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant will be paid over 12 weeks, along with £200m of existing funding under the bus services operators grant, which helps bus operators recover some of their fuel costs.
Local authorities will also get £30m to maintain bus services. This money had previously been aimed at starting new bus services.
Mr Shapps said: “Our buses are a lifeline for people who need to travel for work or to buy food – including our emergency services and NHS staff – and it’s absolutely vital we do all we can to keep the sector running.
“This multimillion-pound investment will protect crucial local transport links across England, bolstering the sector and minimising disruption for passengers in the long term.”
Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, said: “This funding is designed to plug the gap between the costs of running essential routes and revenue currently being received, and will help the country through the outbreak by allowing critical journeys to continue.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “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.
“This funding will provide a lifeline for those on the frontline as well as those who cannot work from home.”
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s general secretary Mick Cash said in a letter to the government that the health risk to workers and passengers must be “kept to an absolute minimum”.
He called for a national charter of protection for us workers and us passengers.
Meanwhile, services for those travelling further afield are winding down.
Stagecoach said its operator Megabus will suspend all services in England and Wales by Sunday and National Express is suspending its services from 11.59pm Sunday.
It comes in response to the government’s instructions for people to stay home with the only exceptions being exercise once daily, shopping for essentials and essential work that cannot be done from home.