Stagecoach profits from rising fuel costsas passengers let the train take the strain

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The Independent Online

Higher fuel costs are forcing more people to leave their cars at home and catch a bus or train.

Stagecoach, the leading bus and rail operator, said the trend will help it to make higher than expected profits this year.

The number of passengers using Stagecoach's buses in the four months since May rose by nearly 5 per cent, lifting total revenue by 9.3 per cent, according to a trading update.

The company's finance director, Martin Griffiths, said that there had been a major shift in attitudes towards public transport, driven by increasing road congestion, rising fuel costs and concerns about the effects of climate change.

But he said the prevailing issue at the moment that was helping to generate increased revenue across the group was the cost of fuel.

The group's rail network also benefited from the trend, with revenues up by 9 per cent, although that would have been higher had services not been affected by engineering work on lines used by South West Trains.

The story was much the same in the United States, where Stagecoach operates nationwide bus and coach services. Revenues grew by 7.6 per cent, with a strong debut performance from the network in the north-east states, which began services on 30 May.

Its Virgin Rail joint venture in the UK also performed "at the upper end of expectations" and should do even better when a new timetable offering 30 per cent more train services is introduced in December.

The strong across-the-board performance spurred Stagecoach into predicting that profits for the current year would be higher than expected.

The broker Credit Suisse, which is forecasting 2009 profits £30m higher at £205m, described Stagecoach as the '"highest quality public transport operator". The shares closed down 0.75p at 302p.