Transport for West Midland’s (TfWM) Transport Delivery Committee has agreed to continue to fund at least 78 of 114 bus service contracts that are regarded as socially necessary. The committee agreed to relax value for money criteria and provide an £800,000 rise in the 2023/24 annual subsidy – taking the total to £16.3m.
The committee’s decision came in response to the cost pressures bus operators are facing in the UK due to rising fuel costs and reduced passenger numbers following the Covid-19 pandemic.
TfWM said it will seek “mitigation options” including national funding from the Government’s Local Transport fund, and local funding from the region’s Bus Service Implementation Plan (BSIP). TfWM is also looking at options to expand its Uber-style on-demand bus services.
The subsidies, funded by TfWM, are targeted at gaps in the bus network which bus operators are no longer able to fill on a commercial basis.
Pete Bond, TfWM’s director of integrated transport services, said: “Bus services are by far the most used form of public transport in the region, offer an affordable alternative to the private car and play a vital role in reducing traffic congestion, cut pollution, and assist our moves towards a net-zero carbon region.”
The region has lost five of its smaller bus operators since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bond pointed out. “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.
“While there are these cost pressures and difficult decisions have been made, a key way to ease them in future is to grow passenger numbers so that bus services are financially viable – which is why TfWM has worked with operators to freeze fares for the next three years and has outlined plans to further improve the bus network.”
Alongside the fares freeze, other proposals include streamlined fares and ticketing, more transport safety officers on patrol, and incentives for car users to switch to bus.
Through the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, the region also plans to develop 50 kilometres of bus lanes and bus priority measures, new cross-city bus routes and further improvements in live travel information to help improve reliability of services over the next five years.
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