FIRST Group, which includes First Buses that is among the biggest bus operators in Worcestershire, has urged the government to stop encouraging people to avoid trains and buses.

Chief executive Matthew Gregory claimed it is time to “move away” from appealing to passengers not to use public transport for non-essential journeys.

Despite coronavirus lockdown restrictions easing in recent weeks, the Department for Transport continues to tell people to “stay off public transport if they can” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since June 15 commuters and other travellers could be fined if caught without a mask or face covering while using public transport.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Gregory said: “Face coverings are now mandatory and I think with that we can change the message to the fact that public transportation is safe.

“We’ve enhanced the cleaning, we’ve enhanced the disinfectant, we’ve dealt with social distancing properly to try and avoid crowding.

“We’ve made this case to government to start moving away from that avoiding public transport (message) because we have to get the economy moving again, people want to travel again and move again.

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“If we’re revitalising the hospitality industry, then we want people to go on public transportation, we don’t want them getting in their cars and having congestion and air pollution.

“It was right at the time, but it is time now to move away from that messaging to something more that promotes the safe use of public transport.”

Passenger watchdog Transport Focus has also written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to review the government’s communication strategy.

It’s chief executive Anthony Smith said: “It seems unfair that people who don’t have alternatives to public transport may be put off using it due to unclear or inconsistent messages.”

“People need to be clear on whether they can or cannot use public transport.

“The government and transport industry must urgently review the message it puts out.”

First Group is Britain’s largest bus company and also a major train operator.

It saw its shares tumble by 23 per cent on Wednesday after revealing a “material uncertainty” over its ability to continue as a going concern as its pre-tax losses widened to £300 million for the year to March 31.