West Midlands’ bus services secure funding despite unprecedented national cost pressures
Regional transport bosses have agreed to continue funding bus services that are regarded as socially necessary, as part of a review of the West Midlands’ bus network.
Credit: National Express
West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has announced that Transport for West Midlands’ (TfWM) Transport Delivery Committee has agreed to continue to fund at least 78 of 114 bus service contracts that are regarded as socially necessary, despite unprecedented cost pressures on bus operators across the UK due to rising fuel costs and reduced passenger numbers following the COVID-19 pandemic.
This has been made possible after the committee agreed to relax value for money criteria and provide an £800,000 increase in the 2023/24 annual subsidy – taking the total to £16.3 million.
Various mitigation options will now be explored in an attempt to significantly reduce the services at risk. These mitigations include national funding from the UK government’s Local Transport fund, and local funding from the region’s Bus Service Implementation Plan. TfWM is also looking at options to expand its Uber-style on-demand bus services.
Pete Bond, TfWM’s Director of Integrated Transport Services, said: “There is no doubt the industry is struggling – we have sadly lost five of our smaller operators since the start of the COVID pandemic – and as a transport authority we need to target our limited resources where they can make the most difference and, using our value for money criteria, protect the taxpayer. It is an incredibly difficult situation, but we are pleased that by adjusting our rules we have been able to reduce the impact of the review and will be looking for ways to extend existing services or introduce alternatives to cover some areas.”
The fare freeze is just one part of a wide-ranging Bus Service Improvement Plan being developed by TfWM, backed by £88 million, ring-fenced Department for Transport funding, to make buses more attractive, convenient and affordable for passengers. Further proposals include streamlined fares and ticketing, more transport safety officers on patrol and incentives for car users to switch to bus.
This is on top of the funding that has been secured through the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, which will develop 50km of bus lanes and bus priority measures, new cross-city bus routes and further improvements to real-time travel information to help improve reliability of services over the next five years.
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