Bus fare rises in Birmingham halted in National Express West Midlands U-turn

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The £2 bus fare cap set to stay in Birmingham and the West Midlands - for now - in National Express West Midlands U-turn

The majority of single bus journeys in the West Midlands are to be capped at £2 until at least the end of October after National Express West Midlands confirmed it will take part in the Government’s scheme.

Single fares on all National Express West Midlands buses had been due to rise to £2.70 from next week. But following conversations with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) and the Department for Transport (DfT), the operator – which runs around 90% of bus routes in the region - has confirmed it will be maintaining the £2 cap.

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It means that fares will continue to stay low for passengers in the West Midlands, with the £2 single fare complimenting National Express’s £4.50 day ticket - which is the cheapest all-day ticket in any city region in England, and 50p cheaper than the equivalents in Manchester and Liverpool.

In an additional benefit to passengers, this all-day ticket will soon be usable across all operators after TfWM revealed its plans to simplify fares - and remove the extra charge for passengers using services provided by different operators, such as Diamond buses and the like.

Until now those swapping between services and routes provided by multiple bus companies had to pay a premium which, for example, would add an extra £5 to the cost of a four-week ticket. But from Monday (3 July) passengers will pay no more than the cost of any single operator’s regular fare – making it easier to hop on any bus provided by any operator.

As well as this, operators are also removing a large array of bus tickets from sale in an attempt to greatly simplify bus ticketing in the West Midlands. TfWM explained that both moves have been agreed and delivered through the region’s “updated enhanced partnership agreed between TfWM and bus operators” – allowing services to be better coordinated.

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To benefit from the upcoming changes, customers will need to buy the nbus ticket with cash, on swift or as a direct debt as debit card information provided by those using contactless payment cannot be shared between bus companies.

Birmingham busBirmingham bus
Birmingham bus

Birmingham & West Midlands bus network still at 90% of pre-Covid pandemic levels

The bus network in the West Midlands is under acute pressure due to the impact of rising costs and stubborn patronage numbers following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the wake of these challenges TfWM, which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), says that it has done all it can to support operators find sustainable solutions for their services. It pointed out that as part of that effort, TfWM was successful in securing an £88 million one off grant to deliver a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) last year. Monday’s simplification of fares is part of that improvement plan.

Whilst operators have taken the decision to increase fares (in many cases for the first time in six years) from July 3 to offset their rising costs, 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 other regions in the country have failed to maintain.

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A spokesperson for TfWM said: “Bus fares in the West Midlands will remain among the very lowest in the UK and some fares, including the popular day ticket will be cheaper than they were in 2017 when a 52 week travelcard was £714 compared to £660 from next week.”

West Midlands Mayor Andy StreetWest Midlands Mayor Andy Street
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street

What has West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said about the move to retain the £2 bus fare cap in Birmingham and across the region?

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Following the difficult news last week of National Express West Midlands fare rises after six years of the fare freeze, I am really pleased we have been able to limit the impact both with the £2 single fare cap and our multi-operator tickets.

“With more than 200 million journeys a year, buses are the backbone of public transport in the West Midlands and key to cutting down car use, congestion, and carbon emissions. That is why we remain wedded to improving services for passengers, underlined by the ticket changes starting on Monday.

“The £2 single fare cap, the removal of our multi-operator premium, and the simplification of ticketing should all make a tangible difference to passengers – whilst we are also continuing to work with National Express on a commitment to protecting the existing bus network.”

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National Express West Midlands busesNational Express West Midlands buses
National Express West Midlands buses

Cllr Mike Bird, WMCA portfolio lead for transport and leader of Walsall Council added: “We know many are struggling with the cost of living right now so this fare cap and simplification of fares across our operators will help our bus users – especially those who use buses run by different companies.

“As well as doing what we can to keep fares as low as possible we are also investing in the infrastructure including bus lanes and priority measures, to ensure services are more reliable as well as good value, and introducing greener buses to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality in our towns and cities.”

What has National Express West Midlands said about keeping the £2 bus fare cap?

A spokesperson for National Express West Midlands said: “We recognise the challenges that household budgets are facing at the moment so we’re pleased to confirm we’re participating in the Government’s extended £2 fare scheme.

“This will mean customers across the West Midlands can beat the 3rd July fare rises. If they do just two journeys a day and pay by contactless, their fare will be capped at £4, making sure they never overpay. We’re on our customers’ side and continue to work hard to provide great value bus travel on our comprehensive network, making it even easier for customers to ditch the car and switch to the bus.”

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