A “SIGNIFICANT number” of bus drivers have been furloughed after the number of passengers plummeted during the UK lockdown.

Brighton and Hove Buses said the measure had been taken to “protect jobs in the longer term” as demand for its services dropped after residents were urged to stay at home and avoid public transport where possible.

The new furlough scheme means staff are suspended from their workplace during the coronavirus crisis, and the Government will pay 80 per cent of their salary throughout this period.

Brighton and Hove Buses bosses say the company has taken advantage of the scheme to prevent future job losses.

A spokesman said: “Government advice for people to limit their travel to essential journeys has led to a fall in passenger numbers by 90 per cent. Our services have been adjusted to reflect the impact of this reduction, which means that fewer drivers are currently needed. Some of our colleagues have opted to take the Government’s furlough offer; many of whom are drivers.”

Though an exact figure is not known, Brighton and Hove Buses’ managing director Martin Harris revealed that “a significant number” of staff had been furloughed. The company has more than 1,000 staff.

Mr Harris said the bus company’s primary focus was on “connecting communities for essential travel during this difficult time,” while the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme aimed to secure jobs long term and avoid redundancies.

The transport company has reduced the number of services it runs in the daytime and evening, while maintaining morning services “for key workers and essential travel”.

Mr Harris said: “Bus drivers are key workers themselves and I am proud of the way they have risen to the challenge of getting NHS staff and other key workers to their jobs every day. Bus drivers deserve our thanks for the great job they are doing out there.”

The bus company continues to run a “special timetable” throughout the coronavirus crisis.

A spokesman said: “Due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus we are continually updating our information and timetables to better reflect services much needed by the local community including supporting key workers in getting to work and those with essential travel needs only. The new timetable includes a temporary reduction in day-time and evening buses and a halt to night bus routes, reflecting the Government’s advice for people to limit their travel during this time.”