West Midlands secures funding to sustain bus services until 2024

Posted: 4 September 2023 | | No comments yet

An agreement between TfWM and major bus operators ensures the continued operation of bus services, averting potential cuts following the ending of UK government COVID-19 support funding.

West Midlands secures funding to sustain bus services until 2024

Credit: Transport for West Midlands

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has announced that bus services in the West Midlands have secured funding to maintain their current operations until the end of 2024, thanks to an agreement between Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) and key bus operators like National Express and Diamond Bus.

This agreement averts the immediate threat of losing around one-third of the region’s bus services or experiencing reduced service frequencies after the UK government had stopped its COVID-19 support funding in June 2023. Bus operators have grappled with rising costs in fuel, maintenance and staff expenses over the last two years, making it increasingly difficult to keep their buses running.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA Chair, played a pivotal role in negotiations with both bus companies and the government to secure this agreement. He said: “Investment in new cleaner zero-emission buses continues at pace, local people are already benefitting from bus priority measures – including the new Sprint routes – and bus fares in our region remain amongst the lowest anywhere in the country. We’re proud of our buses and will continue to protect the network as residents rightly expect and deserve.”

Under the deal, TfWM has decided to re-allocate a portion of the region’s £88 million Bus Service Improvement Plan grant to sustain current services while actively seeking a long-term, sustainable funding solution. Approximately £40 million of this grant, originally intended for initiatives promoting increased bus usage, will now support bus operators in maintaining current service levels. 

To alleviate cost pressures on bus companies and preserve essential services, fares had reluctantly been raised in July 2023, with a day ticket increasing from £4 to £4.50. Despite this adjustment, the region’s bus fares remain among the country’s lowest and are still lower than they had been in 2017. 

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Alex Jensen, CEO National Express UK and Germany said: “We welcome the support from Transport for West Midlands which will ensure we can maintain the bus network at the current level until the end of 2024.”

In addition to this protection, TfWM already allocates approximately £16 million annually to subsidise socially necessary but commercially unviable bus services, including evening, weekend and remote location routes. A review of contracted bus services in October 2023 may lead to adjustments.

Through the Bus Service Improvement Plan funding, the region has introduced a uniform fare structure across all private operators, eliminating extra charges for passengers using services from multiple companies. The plan has also funded Transport Safety Officers to enhance passenger safety and address anti-social behaviour. Further investments focus on bus infrastructure, including the development of Sprint routes in Birmingham, improving journey times and reliability through bus lanes and junction upgrades.

While this funding package ensures service provision until the end of 2024, efforts continue to find a more sustainable solution for the future.