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More than 370 bus workers taken on in West Midlands

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More than 370 bus drivers and inspectors have been recruited by the biggest company in the West Midlands since April, it can be revealed today.

National Express West Midlands is planning to employ 1,700 people over three years and began a recruitment drive earlier this year.

So far 361 drivers and 12 inspectors have been taken on with bosses saying they are ahead of where they planned to be.

Many of the jobs have been made available due to a spate of drivers reaching retirement age.

The recruitment is a welcome boost for the region's economy which continues to be one of the hardest hit in the country for unemployment.

National Express West Midlands employs 5,500 people on its bus and tram operations, as it also runs the Midland Metro.

Managing director Peter Coates said a large number of the recruits had been women.

He said: "We still have vacancies but we've been successful in recruiting, particularly in getting lady drivers to come to work for us.

"We want the bus company to reflect the people it serves. More than half of our passengers are female."

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The company is also increasing its ticket inspections to cut down on the £2 million a year it loses because of fare dodging.

Mr Coates added: "We're increasing our revenue protection work. It's something our customers want us to do because they say it annoys them when they've paid their fare and they're sitting by someone who has not.

"We lose between two and four per cent of our revenue to fraud, abour £2 million a year, and we want to see that come down.

"We doubled our ticket inspections over the last three to four months and we're going to continue like that for at least another six months and see how it goes."

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National Express is currently drawing up plans for a "smartcard" that would allow people to pre-pay for their travel and take advantage of cheaper fares.

The proposal comes as Mr Coates revealed the company was having to review fares and considering whether to raise them again in January.

Mr Coates said a National Express card was "an option" but that it would take time to develop.

"We don't want to launch it badly, we would have to get it right and know that people have confidence in the system", he said.

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