FirstGroup plc is the UK’s largest surface transportation company with a turnover of over six billion pounds, employing 110000 staff in Europe and North America. First runs local bus services throughout the UK outside London, and these currently carry almost 600 million passengers each year in more than forty major towns and cities from Aberdeen to Penzance, with express coach services also operated in Ireland. Full details of First’s operations can be found at www.firstgroup.com.
First is also a major UK train operator, with two passenger franchises: Great Western Railway and TransPennine Express. First also owns Hull Trains, an “open access” operator. Between them these companies operate a significant proportion of the UK passenger rail network with a balanced portfolio of intercity, commuter and regional services.
First strongly believes that the bus has a strong role to play in rural communities, helping to sustain local services in rural communities – such as shops, leisure and health facilities; providing access to education and employment; and keeping an increasingly elderly population active and mentally well – reducing the burden on health and social services expenditure. Even in rural areas, 80% of bus services are provided on a commercial basis without local authority support. But in times of local authority spending cuts, the value of spending money on buses must not be underestimated.
Research by Greener Journeys shows that the partial repayment of the fuel duty paid by bus operators delivers up to £3.50 of economic benefits in the UK for every £1 spent by the Government; that investment in bus infrastructure and priority measures generates £3.32 of social, economic and environmental benefits for each £1 spent, and that every £1 spent on free concessionary travel generates over £2.87 of wider benefits for society.
It is imperative that these benefits are taken into account when national and local governments are taking decisions on expenditure on local bus services.