Bus network protected until 2025 following £40 million investment from TfWM

Bus services across the West Midlands will continue to operate at near current levels until the end of 2024 following an agreement between Transport for West Midlands and the bus operating companies.

The deal heads off the immediate threat of around one third of the region’s bus services being withdrawn or frequencies reduced following the ending of Government Covid support funding in June. Operators have faced increasing cost pressures due to steep rises in fuel, maintenance, and staff costs over the last two years and are struggling to keep buses on the road.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, led talks with the bus companies and Government to secure the agreement to protect services.

Under the agreement TfWM, which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority has re-allocated part of the region’s £88m Bus Service Improvement Plan grant to keep services running while a long-term sustainable funding solution is found.

This grant, awarded to TfWM by the Department for Transport last year, was to be used on a variety of initiatives to encourage more people to use buses – but now approximately £40m will be used to support bus operators to maintain services at their present level.  However, TfWM is still on course to invest in improved bus priority, more electric and hydrogen buses, as well as securing agreements with operators.

The West Midlands has managed to retain the vast majority of its bus routes despite a dramatic drop in usage during and since the covid-19 pandemic. The current network is at around 90% of pre-covid levels, a level many other regions have failed to maintain.

Fares were reluctantly increased in July to reduce the cost pressures on bus companies and keep more services running. The price of a day ticket rose from £4 to £4.50 for example.

Despite this the region’s bus fares remain among the lowest in the country and remain lower than they were in 2017. Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA Chair, said:

“Buses are the backbone of our public transport network - providing a vital daily service for tens of thousands of local people right across our region at the same time as helping us to tackle the climate emergency and reduce traffic congestion on our roads.

“That’s why we simply could not allow a substantial reduction in services and I personally made the case on behalf of our region during intensive discussions with the likes of National Express West Midlands and Government.

“By stepping in and arranging this funding package to maintain bus service provision, we’ve successfully secured much needed certainty for the network all the way through to the end of next year. 

“We’ve taken action and shown leadership in the face of the immediate challenge confronting us but we all know that a more sustainable solution must be found in the years ahead. We continue to work closely with the bus companies - and of course with Government - to achieve exactly that objective over the longer term.

“We should not forget what a success story buses are here in the West Midlands. 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.”

This protection is on top of approximately £16 million TfWM spends annually subsidising buses which are deemed socially necessary but not able to operate on a commercial basis – such as some evening and weekend services or those calling at more remote locations. There will be a review of contracted bus services during October which could result in some routes being reduced or withdrawn.

Using the Bus Service Improvement Plan funding the region has already implemented a ‘bonfire of bus tickets’ by securing a uniform fare structure across all private operators, meaning passengers no longer pay extra to use services run by multiple companies.

It has also funded new Transport Safety Officers who are out on patrol to keep passengers safe, deter crime and tackle anti-social behaviour.

Further investment is going into the region’s bus infrastructure, including the ongoing development of the Sprint routes in Birmingham where bus lanes and junction upgrades have already improved journey times and reliability. Cllr Mike Bird, WMCA portfolio lead for transport and leader of Walsall Council said:

“Many other areas have seen bus services decimated in recent months and years and there was a risk of that happening here. But through our intervention, working with our bus companies, we have reached an agreement which keeps the buses on the road while keeping our fares among the lowest in the country.

“At the same time, we are continuing to invest in more bus lanes and priority junctions, new bus stations, new greener vehicles and our transport safety officers to further improve services for the travelling public.”


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