Express & Star

Crunch talks underway to try and save three 'essential' Black Country bus routes

Talks are under way between transport chiefs to save three "essential" bus routes in the Black Country due to be scrapped in two months' time.

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A bus operated by Diamond Buses

Diamond Bus is set to axe its 002, 45 and 226 services from April 15, citing high running costs and a lack of usage, with bosses branding them no longer viable.

The decision has sparked widespread backlash with more than 4,000 people coming forward to sign petitions against the "lifeline" routes being scrapped.

Transport chiefs said conversations are ongoing, but warned the budget to subsidise services was allocated two months ago when 27 at-risk routes were saved.

Pete Bond, director of integrated network services for Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), said: "We understand the concerns or passengers of services affected by the proposed withdrawal of these valued services and are in discussions with Diamond to both understand the reasons and seek a way forward.

"Diamond have informed us that they cannot sustain a commercial service owing to the pressure of rising fuel and staff costs and reduced passenger income since the Covid-19 pandemic.

"TfWM is exploring options to support the services, however the entire budget available to subsidise bus services was allocated two months ago as part of a bus service review – this included £5m of additional public funding to cover the cost of running 27 bus services at risk following a raft of commercial bus service de-registrations from bus operators.

"Among those services saved was the 226 during the evening and weekends. We will continue to explore options and update passengers of the 002, 45 and 226 services during March at the latest via the TfWM website."

Around 1,000 people have signed a petition to save the 45 route – which runs from Walsall to West Bromwich – after a campaign was launched to get Diamond to reverse its decision.

Sarah Coombes, organiser of the Save the 45 bus petition, said: "We’ve had an incredible response to the petition, with so many people leaving comments about how much they rely on this bus. The Yew Tree community centre is also sharing a paper petition and we can hardly print it fast enough with so many signatures.

"This shows the strength of feeling in the area and we are telling [West Midlands Mayor] Andy Street and TfWM loud and clear – we cannot lose this bus.”

Meanwhile a letter about the bus service has been written to Mr Street, Bob Baker who is the managing director of Diamond, and Anne Shaw who is the executive director for TfWM – signed by the campaigner, Councillor Bill Gavan and Councillor Elizabeth Giles.

Elsewhere around 1,400 people have signed a petition to save the 226 which runs from Merry Hill to Dudley. And around 1,800 have signed a petition calling to save the 002 route, from Weoley Castle to Merry Hill.

A statement by Diamond Bus said: “Since Covid we have been working in partnership with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) in the hope that these services would recover.

“Since the end of August 2022 we have continued to sustain losses. The decline in viability of these routes is linked to the escalation in labour and operating costs and the lack of income growth.

"In January 2023, service revisions were put in place to try and align the income and expenditure of these routes and improve their viability. This alignment has subsequently failed, and Diamond Bus has now reluctantly taken the decision to cancel our 45, 002 and 226 services from April 15, 2023.

“Through our partnership discussions, the long-established position was that ‘Low Fare Zone’ ticketing would be phased out and all fares would align to a consistent rate across the whole West Midlands region. In simple terms we were advised that the Sandwell & Dudley Low Fare Zone £3 Day Ticket would align to the current West Midlands £4 Day Ticket.

“This is now expected not to happen, which means these services will continue to lose money. Diamond Bus has therefore been left with no choice but to de-register these heavily loss-making services.”