WEST Midlands Mayor Andy Street has responded to questions following news the region’s main bus operator will be raising fares by as much as 26 per cent.

Yesterday National Express West Midlands (NXWM), which runs 93 per cent of West Midlands buses, announced it was increasing ticket prices from July 3.

Under the new tariff an all-day ticket will rise from £4 to £4.50 and a weekly ticket from £15 to £17.

Single tickets might go up from £2 to £2.70 (a 26 per cent increase) if NXWM decides not to continue with the government’s £2 price cap scheme, recently extended until November.

The mayor released a statement this morning (June 20) saying the increase was “disappointing” and emphasised that West Midlands bus fares had been “frozen for six years whilst they rose elsewhere”.

He explained that, without the increase, nearly half the network would be at risk of cuts and said he would “not allow [it] to be decimated”.

In September, Mr Street had announced a fare freeze until 2025, ahead of the Tory conference, but this is no longer going ahead.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) asked Mr Street if he felt undermined by NXWM’s change of course.

He insisted “no”, saying it was his “firm belief” last year that freezes could be maintained because bus usage was increasing. But he said usage had since “plateaued” and the “strong background” of freezes and reductions could not be maintained.

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is currently in partnership with NXWM and other operators to try to improve bus services in the region, with version one established in June 2021, and version two last year.

The upcoming third version of the partnership will be entered in July, which means the company will increase prices just before signing up to the conditions.

Asked whether the company was acting in good faith, Mr Street said: “It’s not my job to and defend the operator at all.

“And let’s be really clear, there’s been pretty difficult negotiations from when they told me this because I get for customers that this is bad news.

“And it’s not easy to have to explain why the decision’s been made.

“But I think you’re being unfair on NXWM because still the enhanced partnership stands.”

He said the WMCA would use extra central government money to “plug the gap” and the partnership could prevent the need to move to publicly-run buses, a model known as ‘bus franchising’.

Asked if it was fair for NXWM to receive more funding after it had cut services and raised fares, he said: “They were always likely to have a large share of the [funding], but not all of it.”

He added that some of the funding was for improving the network for customers and providing better public information. Mr Street added: “But the point that I think has got to come out from all of this is that public money is being used to protect the network.”

Asked if the WMCA was doing anything to bring more commercial bus operators into the region, to avoid NXWM having such a large share of routes, the mayor said it had brought in other operators, like Stagecoach, to provide publicly-funded services.

Mr Street contrasted prices in the region with higher fares in Manchester and Liverpool. He added: “We shouldn’t be too ready to criticise our model because [it has] actually demonstrably delivered lower ticket prices here.”

The LDRS pressed Mr Street on whether he and the WMCA were being forced into the new fares by NXWM.

He said: “It’s been forced not just by National Express, again, to be fair. Today it’s a story about National Express ticket prices but you sit down with the CEO of Rotala, the second-biggest operator, they will tell you the same – that ‘ticket prices are too low here’.”

National Express Group’s revenue went up 29 per cent last year, to £2.8 billion, but Mr Street said: “I can promise you bus services in the West Midlands are not the source of their profit.

“It’s not for me to reveal their profit numbers, but it is a complete misunderstanding and they are in no better position than any other operator nationally.

“I can absolutely reassure you there’s been a lot of discussion about the right way forward here and we are using all the cards that we’ve got, including using a lot of public subsidy money, and of course, trying to make sure National Express is pressed as well.

“So I’m still pressing them, for example, on keeping this £2 fair, I’m still pressing them as well on ensuring the reliability of their service.”