West Midlands mayor Parker sets course for franchising


New West Midlands mayor Richard Parker has commissioned a roadmap to replace the region’s ‘broken’ bus network with a franchising model, with a transition beginning next year.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), which Mr Parker leads, said it has spent more than £75m on subsidies over 18 months to keep buses on the road.

It added that funding is only in place until the end of the year, so its transport arm, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), has already started talks with the Government and bus operators over new funding arrangements to prevent reduction in services or steep fare increases.

Mr Parker, who ousted Andy Street earlier this month, said: ‘This is unsustainable, our bus network is broken and that is why we want to take back control so that it serves the people, communities and businesses who rely on regular, affordable and reliable bus services.

‘I have directed our officers to put a report before the WMCA Board at the earliest opportunity to set out a roadmap for franchising the region’s bus services as quickly as possible – and get us ready to start that transition in 2025.’

Mr Parker added: ‘We are also talking to the Labour leadership, who if successful at the general election, will introduce measures to make it easier and speed up the process towards franchising – I will make sure this benefits the West Midlands.'

The WMCA said that its board commissioned an assessment of future options for the network last year, following this it will now explore how a franchised network could be delivered.

Under current legislation the process, the transition could begin in early 2025 with the first franchised services operating approximately two years later.

From left: Pete Bond; Richard Parker; Wolverhampton Council leader and WMCA board member Stephen Simpkins

The WMCA pointed out that although TfWM is covering about half the running costs of bus services, private bus operators make decisions about routes, fares and timetables.

‘Under the franchised model TfWM will decide these and award contracts to operators to run services to set specifications,’ it added.

Pete Bond, director of integrated network services at TfWM, said: ‘This work requested by the mayor will show if there are improved efficiencies and benefits from franchising, and if we can get better value for money for the taxpayer as well as shape the bus network by using funding in a more co-ordinated and efficient way.

‘It will also highlight if further customer benefits can be made such as improved ticketing and fares and passenger information as well as further integration with tram and rail services.’

A report to the WMCA Board in July will set out the process in further detail, along with the estimated set up and running costs.

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