National Express has pledged to use £4 million of its job retention bonus cash to slash fares across its West Midlands bus services.
The group said it would use the cash to cut ticket prices when Covid-19 restrictions on public transport are lifted.
Under the Government’s job retention bonus scheme, employers will be paid £1,000 for each furloughed employee they bring back to work who is still retained at the end of January 2021.
National Express furloughed more than 40,000 staff across its 52,000-strong global workforce under government support schemes in the UK and overseas.
Tom Stables, managing director of National Express UK, said: “This is the right thing to do for our customers.
“And by using our allowance from the Chancellor’s job retention bonus to reduce fares across the West Midlands, we are investing in the future of our region.”
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, hailed it as an “incredibly innovative” move.
He said: “Not only will cheaper bus travel allow more people to get to town and city centres to support local shops, but it also helps those travelling to work or to a job interview.
“Keeping people in work or supporting those who fall out is a critical part of our region’s recovery plans.”
Details of the pledge came as National Express saw shares tumble as much as 17% at one stage after posting steep losses and revealing travel remains “much suppressed” amid the pandemic.
It posted statutory pre-tax losses of £122.2 million for the first six months of 2020, against profits of £88.4 million a year earlier, due to plummeting passenger numbers.
The group – which runs coach and bus services across the UK as well as overseas operations including US school buses – said passenger numbers tumbled 80% during global lockdowns, and by 90% in the most impacted parts of the business.
It temporarily suspended all UK coach services from April 5 to July 1 in the face of the coronavirus lockdown, but kept scaled-back operations running across the West Midlands and Dundee.
The group revealed passenger numbers remain around 80% lower across its UK coach arm, which is operating with around 15% of daily seats, while customer numbers are still 47% lower in the Midlands and 53% down in Dundee.
Its figures come after rival FirstGroup last month flagged doubts over its future after posting a £300 million annual loss due to plunging passenger numbers.
National Express said that while there were early signs of demand returning as restrictions ease, “activity remains at much suppressed levels”.
Chief executive Dean Finch said: “While there are some signs of demand returning, levels are both significantly reduced and subject to variability given local lockdowns, the impact of quarantines and uncertainty over the extent of US school reopenings.
“We do not know when pre-pandemic levels of demand will return but have developed plans to respond to future scenarios.”
The group’s interim results showed half-year revenues fell 23% to £1.03 billion, with the fall limited in part thanks to Government support programmes.
On an underlying basis, the group posted interim pre-tax losses of £60.7 million against profits of £114.6 million a year ago.