Centro’s approved budget for 2014-15 includes an annual grant of £8.5m to West Midlands Special Needs Transport to provide its Ring and Ride service Monday to Saturday between 0800hrs and 2000hrs. A new £1 per trip fare is to be introduced and Centro will work closely with the charity over the coming weeks to mitigate any effect on users. The money does not cover Sunday operation and the provision of a limited service is to be explored.
It has also been decided to keep half-price bus fares for children and free tram and train travel for eligible people despite the implementation of a £7m budget cut. Free bus travel for older people, the blind and disabled has been safeguarded after 2300hrs.
Centro members had considered cutting or even ending half price child fares, free tram and train travel and the Ring and Ride service in a bid to save 5% of the transport budget in 2014-15 and a further 5% in 2015-16.
A public consultation was held in which people were invited to give their views on the options and how they would affect the way they travel. More than 8,000 people responded.
Centro Chairman, Cllr John McNicholas said it had only been right for Centro to reduce the budget given the dramatic cuts in Government funding being faced by the district councils – Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
He said that the approved 5% cut meant Centro would now be able to reduce its levy on the councils by £7.3m for the coming year with the overall budget falling from £146m to £138.7m.
As well as a £2m reduction in the Ring and Ride grant, the approved budget will also involve a £1m reduction in bus station and infrastructure maintenance, changes to subsidised bus access standards and measures to reduce financing costs.
In order to limit the impact on frontline services Centro will be required to cut its own operational and staffing costs by £3m (15%) which is £1m more than originally planned for 2014-15. It means that through on-going staffing restructures and other efficiencies, Centro will have reduced such costs from £27m in 2010 to £16.5m in 2014-15 – a cut of nearly 40%.
Cllr McNicholas added: “Over the last four years Centro has made on-going cuts in its operational costs by restructuring its workforce and by finding other efficiencies. However, a further 15% cut in the coming year will inevitably impact further on Centro’s staff and the way they deliver services.”