£40m tax payer money to save West Midlands bus routes, including National Express services, at risk

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Companies like National Express West Midlands (NX WM), which runs over 90% of the region’s buses, had threatened to cut or reduce a third of routes

£40 million of tax payer money will prop up flailing West Midlands bus routes until 2025 to avoid operators axeing services.

Companies like National Express West Midlands (NX WM), which runs over 90% of the region’s buses, had threatened to cut or reduce a third of routes.

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The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has stepped in with money provided by the government’s £88m Bus Service Improvement Plan grant to save them.

Bus usage has dropped since Covid with the current network running at around 90% of pre-covid levels and fares were increased in July with a day ticket going up fron £4 to £4.50.

But the WMCA insists the region’s bus fares remain among the lowest in the country and 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.

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“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 NXWM and government.

Bus network in Birmingham protected (Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix Ltd)Bus network in Birmingham protected (Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix Ltd)
Bus network in Birmingham protected (Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix Ltd) | Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix Ltd

“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.”

Alex Jensen, CEO National Express UK & 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.

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“Our many customers depend on our services every day and we are pleased to confirm they can continue to rely on them.

“Meanwhile we are continuing the investment in electric and zero-emission buses which are both good for the environment and will help keep costs low. We will also work closely with our partners to seek a long term solution to the issues facing the bus industry at the present time.”

Recent data released by the Labour party showed the West Midlands has lost more bus services than anywhere else in England in the last ten years.

The opposition party said two-thirds of bus services in the West Midlands had been axed since 2011, making the region the hardest hit.

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But the government said the information was “misleading”, insisting it had invested heavily in buses, including bringing in a £2 price cap.

An assessment is underway at Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) – part of the WMCA – to find out if the buses should be brought back under public control for the first time in 40 years.

This would mean decisions about scheduling, routes and prices would fall under the responsibility of the public body TfWM instead of private companies like National Express.

The assessment won’t complete until next year, with the mayor having the final say in June 2024. Depending on the outcome of next year’s mayoral election, it could be Tory Andy Street or Labour newcomer and ex-Price-waterhouse Cooper exec Richard Parker who decides.

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