FIRSTGROUP has raised its profit expectation for its current year after reporting higher passenger numbers and some easing of pressure from bus driver shortages.

The Aberdeen-based company said its First Rail open access operations, the only segment of the division that takes full passenger revenue risk, had benefited from stronger than anticipated demand over the winter. First Bus noted passenger volumes have now increased to 83% of 2020 equivalent levels, with demand benefitting from the £2 bus fare cap in England and for free bus travel for under-22s in Scotland.

The company anticipates that adjusted operating profit and adjusted attributable profit will be ahead of previous expectations for the year, with forecasts for 2024 unchanged.

Chief executive Graham Sutherland said: “I am pleased by the group’s progress in the second half of our 2023 financial year, which has been driven by increased passenger volumes and improved operational performance in bus and stronger than anticipated demand for our open access operations in rail.

“We remain committed to working closely with our partners to deliver successful bus and rail networks that serve the needs of our customers and communities and to playing a central role in achieving many of society’s economic, social and environmental aims.”

FirstGroup noted that it completed the acquisition of Essex-based Ensignbus on March 9. It said Ensignbus, which includes commercial bus operations, a vehicle refurbishment and re-sale business, and a "high value" depot, would provide synergies and growth opportunities and enhance its local commercial bus operations in the area.

The group also noted that EQT Infrastructure’s sale of First Transit to Transdev North America , first announced in October, is completed FirstGroup, which sold First Transit to EQT in 2021, said it is entitled to an earn-out consideration worth around £74 million that it expects to realise later this year.