FirstGroup to plough £70m into bus fleet

FirstGroup: 70 million pound bus fleet investment. Picture: Donald Macleod
FirstGroup: 70 million pound bus fleet investment. Picture: Donald Macleod
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FirstGroup today unveiled a bumper £70 million order for 425 buses, the bulk of which will be built in the UK.

The Aberdeen-based transport giant, which is facing a call from an activist shareholder to spin off its US operations, said the deal brings its total investment in new vehicles to about £310m in the past four years.

Giles Fearnley, managing director of the group’s UK bus arm, said: “This order is great news for our customers and underlines our commitment to growing our business and encouraging more people to use our services.”

In November, the group posted a 14.3 per cent fall in UK bus revenues to £490.7m for the first six months of its financial year, with most of the decline blamed on the sale of its bus operations in London.

Ballymena-based manufacturer Wrightbus has won the lion’s share of First’s order and will deliver 301 vehicles, while Alexander Dennis of Falkirk will supply 97 buses, including 60 double-deckers.

Leeds-based Optare and Volvo picked up the rest of the order, due for delivery this financial year.

First, which was forced into a deeply-discounted £615m rights issue last year to defend its credit rating, is under pressure from US hedge fund Sandell Asset Management to shed its US assets and invest more in its bus and rail activities in the UK.

Rival Stagecoach is expected to reveal its bus fleet investment plans in the coming weeks. The Perth-based firm said last month that its regional bus operations in the UK saw revenues grow 3.3 per cent to £504.3m in the first half.