Cuts to public transport possible

Local public transport body Centro are warning that a reduction in services may have to be made.

Centro has drawn up a budget that protects front line services and still saves £4 million next year.

The transport authority for the West Midlands has put forward a proposed levy to member councils of £147.5 million for the year 2012-13. A budget of £152 million was originally put forward by Centro but was revised at the request of finance bosses in the seven local councils that make up the integrated transport authority.

The money has been found from efficiency and cost saving programmes that have commenced during the past year, as well as accelerating programmes scheduled for the financial year 2013-14. However, members have been warned that if they want any further savings then front line services would be hit and tough choices would have to be made.

The proposed levy will be considered by members of the ITA at its meeting on December 12, although a final decision will not be made until February.

Some £88 million in the proposed levy was committed to finance charges and the cost of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and are ring-fenced. The remaining £60 million will be spent on Ring and Ride, child and rail/Metro concessions, bus subsidies and operational expenditure such as staffing, infrastructure management and maintenance – the only areas where Centro can potentially claw back cash.

Ring and Ride is a door-to-door transport service for the disabled. It is largely funded by a Centro grant, which in next year’s proposed levy would be £11.1 million. Run by West Midlands Special Needs Transport, it is the largest scheme of its kind in Europe and has more than 70,000 registered users.

A further £17.1 million is set for child travel and rail and Metro are budgeted for £17.1million. Currently, children travel at half price on the buses, while the West Midlands provides free rail and Metro travel for older persons after 9.30am on top of the existing national free bus pass they already receive.

Ways of saving cash could include reducing the level of subsidy for child fares, charging older people an annual fee for the rail and Metro pass add-on, and charging for rail station car parking – Centro has 7,000 Park and Ride spaces at 41 rail and Metro stations, all of which bar two are free to use.

Bus subsidies account for £8.5 million and are used to top-up the commercial bus network on routes considered socially necessary, and act as a lifeline to many. Centro chairman Councillor Angus Adams said: “These are tough financial times but I would emphasise that no cuts are planned in front-line services under the levy of £147.5 million that we are putting to members.

“However if members decide they want to see further savings then these are the only areas where we have any room for manoeuvre and reductions will result in these services being affected.”