In a meeting at the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) on Monday, senior councillors across all six towns in the region came together to vote on a selection of options to save bus routes.
Councillors voted for option two which, while funds at least 78 of the region’s 114 bus services, around 8,600 people will no longer have access to a bus service within 400 metres.
Documents seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) reveal areas such as Birmingham, Walsall and Sandwell, will be most affected, with 603 facilities impacted by reduced bus services.
Six of these facilities, including some schools, pharmacies and university campuses, will be “completely unserved” by the reduction of bus services.
Sandwell will be hit the hardest by bus service cuts, according to the report, with 29 per cent of households without access to a car.
Meanwhile National Express, which operates school services in the region, are considering axing 12 out of 60 bus routes by this December.
The operator, who carries 93 per cent of the West Midlands passengers, said that while direct alternative services are available “most passengers will be required to change between services in order to undertake their journey to school”.
It comes as the Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) is scheduled to end this year, while the government has announced “some additional targeted funding support” for operators next year.
But the WMCA admitted it was “not known” how much funding will be available, and that discussions with National Express, Diamond, and Stagecoach, indicate they “do not think there is enough funding available to result in any changes to what is proposed”.
They concluded it may be “too late” to mitigate cuts impacted from January 2023.
Driver shortages recorded at ten per cent and higher levels of sickness, at four per cent, have resulted in increased levels of services not operating and not running on time, say WMCA.
WMCA have agreed to relax value for money criteria and provide an £800,000 increase in the 2023/24 annual subsidy – taking the total to £16.3 million.
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.
“But there is no doubt the industry is struggling – we have sadly lost five of our smaller operators since the start of the Covid pandemic – and 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.”
Chris Todd, director for Transport Action Network, said bus services were facing a ‘double-whammy’ of cuts both for supported and commercial services, “denying people the opportunity to access jobs, services, friends and family”.
He said: “The failure of the government to guarantee long-term funding for buses combined with late announcements on short-term support, after many operators have had to make decisions on future services, has led to even more cuts.
“These cuts in Birmingham sound devastating and will undermine the growth of Birmingham’s economy by driving more people into their cars – causing more congestion – while leaving many others stranded.”
A spokesman for National Express said: “We know that our services are vital lifelines for many customers and communities so we are doing everything we can to avoid changing routes.
“In common with bus operators nationwide, because of the change in lifestyles since the pandemic, we are seeing fewer passengers, increased costs, busier roads and fewer drivers – all this means we have to look at our network to get the best coverage for the people of the West Midlands.
“We have been working hard with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) to ensure that we protect the region’s bus services – we are currently running a 10% larger network than comparable cities nationwide. This has spared this region the significant cut-backs seen elsewhere.
“A particular priority is to ensure that places remain served by buses and nobody is cut off from bus provision. Some services, which overlap with other routes, are no longer sustainable and are under review.
“We will work with TfWM to ensure any change is minimised and that we give people as much notice as possible.”
Full list of Black Country routes at risk
10A / 10C | Stourbridge (Circular) | Monday to Friday daytime
11 / 11A | Merry Hill to Dudley | Monday to Saturday (early journeys only)
22 | Tipton to Wednesbury | Monday to Saturday daytime
26 | Walsall to Blakenall | Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday daytime
26A | Wolverhampton to Stowlawn | Evenings and Sunday daytime
30 | West Bromwich to Stone Cross | Monday to Saturday daytime
30 | Darlaston to Bilston | Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday daytime
35 / 35A | Aldridge/Leighswood to Walsall | Monday to Saturday daytime
36 | Walsall to Alumwell (Circular) | Evenings and Sunday daytime
41 | Willenhall to Walsall | Evenings and Sunday daytime
50 | Wednesfield to Wolverhampton | Monday to Friday daytime
61 | Perry Barr to West Bromwich | Monday to Saturday daytime
65 | Woods Estate to Darlaston | Monday to Saturday daytime
66 | Stone Cross to West Bromwich | Monday to Saturday daytime
74A | Dudley to West Bromwich | Monday to Saturday daytime
78 | Sutton Coldfield to Streetly | Monday to Saturday daytime
226 | Dudley to Merry Hill | Evenings and Sunday daytime
229 | Dudley to Bilston | Evenings and Sunday daytime
250 / 251 | Stourbridge to Merry Hill Circular | Monday to Saturday daytime
298 / 299 | Stourbridge to Pedmore Fields Circular | Monday to Saturday daytime
*To view the full list of services at risk of being cut across the region visit tfwm.org.uk/plan-your-journey/ways-to-travel/buses-in-the-west-midlands/upcoming-bus-changes/bus-service-changes-from-1-january-2023