The Scottish Government has pledged to pay bus companies the amount of funding projected in this year's budget regardless of the number of passengers who use services.

The cash pledge, which was announced by the First Minister at a briefing on coronavirus in Edinburgh, is intended to help support companies during the outbreak.

Under the current agreement, Transport Scotland reimburses bus firms for travel under the concessionary scheme for over-60s and disabled people.

Nicola Sturgeon announced this year's funding will not be based on the true amount of travel but projections made at the beginning of the year.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

According to Transport Scotland, bus operators will be able to access the £260 million available to support the concessionary scheme and bus service operator grant payments.

The difference between projections and the amount that will actually be paid to bus operators over the next four months is expected be between £46 million and £92m, Transport Scotland has said.

According to Sturgeon, concessionary travel has dropped by more than 70% since the beginning of the outbreak.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said numbers have dropped 81% in the last two weeks and are expected fall further after recent Government advice.

The First Minister said: "I will also confirm today to support these companies at this time the Scottish Government will pay them for the concessionary travel they were forecast to provide, rather than the concessionary travel that they do actually provide.

"That will deliver support worth tens of millions of pounds to bus companies at a very challenging time."

Matheson said: "We are doing everything we can to support our bus industry in this unprecedented time.

"This action will enable critical services to continue to run, helping our key workers get to their work and to carry out their essential roles across the country.

"I also recognise that our bus industry will be vital to our economic recovery – and we must take steps to protect that recovery now.

The National: Michael Matheson

"People are changing their travel patterns to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and we've seen a real dip in public transport use across Scotland."

He added: "Over the next few months we will effectively make up the difference in concessionary travel and Bus Service Operator Grant payments.

"We will allow operators to access the £260m that we spend every year on supporting bus services, irrespective of the decline in passengers.

"This will help protect the industry, support our key workers and ultimately assist the nationwide response to the Covid-19 outbreak."

Friends of the Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson praised the measure but suggested it could go further to include covering the costs of key workers too.

He said: “Reliable public transport is key to managing this crisis and reducing our climate emissions. Government intervention will be central to achieving both these goals.

“This increased Scottish Government support recognises the key role that bus services play for critical workers, such as NHS staff. Government and industry should also be exploring whether those critical staff could be exempted from fares during this crisis.”

“Under the conditions of the lockdown, very few of us will be taking public transport at the moment and services are already being reduced. We echo the deserved praise for those public transport workers who are continuing to provide these vital public services throughout this period. Any Government support for the bus industry during this crisis, or in future, should ensure these vital workers are prioritised and protected.”