Express & Star

Fresh calls made to bring 'broken' West Midlands bus network under public control

Calls have been made to bring the ‘broken, unreliable, unaffordable’ West Midlands bus network back into public control.

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Members of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s transport delivery overview and scrutiny committee discussed the 2023/24 financial monitoring report at a meeting on Monday.

But Councillor Pervez Akhtar, from Coventry City Council, said despite a balanced budget being achieved, they were always left ‘on the edge’ on whether they’ll have the money needed to maintain the network.

And, he added, they needed to follow Manchester’s lead and reverse de-regulation.

Councillor Akhtar, who is the committee’s scrutiny champion for finance and performance, said: “We have saved some money but we were always on the edge - how we are going to balance the budget, how we are going to safeguard our network, especially the buses.

“The whole system is broken, we mostly rely on the Government to fund us and it was always at the last minute when we’d get that funding.

“The buses are not reliable and they are not even affordable. The buses are crucial to our economy, to our community, tackle air pollution and congestion but we are in a mess.

“As far as this year’s budget, we have balanced the budget. Now it is up to us as politicians.

“We have a de-regulated system which always sees money going to shareholders rather than putting back into the system and having a safeguarded network.”

He added they needed long-term stability and a system which didn’t take money out of services.

He said: “Manchester has cut out the greed. They are going to have a system which is regulated where the passengers are at the centre. It is providing services to their people.

“Don’t forget most of the communities we represent are hit by the cost of living crisis.”

Pete Bond, the authority’s director of integrated network services, said: “We are aware of the challenges we face.

“We continue to work with the Government and any other funding source to try to identify funds which can sustain and support the bus network in the region which we have been relatively successful in doing to date.”

He added that fare increases are “difficult” but said prices in the West Midlands were still a lot cheaper than other areas in the country, including Manchester.