Fares divide as North feels the pinch

The bus and train operator FirstGroup warned it is seeing a growing North-South divide yesterday, with the economic downturn taking an uneven toll on would-be passengers in harder-hit regions.

The company said that although overall UK bus ticket sales were up 1.8 per cent in the past three months, in Scotland and the North of England the pace was nearly 3 per cent slower than in the South, Wales and the Midlands as northern customers struggled to afford fares.

Its trains operations did far better, with an 8 per cent jump in ticket sales on its routes, which include the First Capital Connect service into St Pancras and the First Great Western franchise into Paddington.

The company said it had lodged bids for the new Greater Western and Thameslink train franchises.

The shares fell 6.5p to 320p.