A fleet of luxury buses complete with airconditioning, leather seats and tinted windows designed to get people back on public transport has been launched in Birmingham.

The 18 vehicles, dubbed the "most luxurious buses ever seen in the West Midlands", will be cleaned several times a day to ensure they remain in mint condition and include digital CCTV security.

New high-tech bus shelters have also been installed along routes served by the luxury buses, backed by a team of cleaners to clear up any damage or vandalism within 24 hours.

The £1.4 million investment by bus operator Travel West Midlands aims to turn round a negative image held by many of bus travel.

Customers complain of rubbish on seats and floors, delays to services and top decks dominated by youths freely smoking cigarettes.

Transport chiefs also pledged to refund fares if buses are late on the new routes - serving the 934 to Pheasey, 993 to Streetley and 997 to Walsall routes out of Birmingham centre.

Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, which is responsible for promoting public transport in the region, said: "What I would say to people is those who can get on the 997, 993 and 934 give them a try and let us have your feed back. We are urging people who commute into the city to work or shop to give these enhanced bus routes a try.

"We believe the high standards of service can persuade them to take the bus on a regular basis, helping to reduce congestion and carbon emissions."

Mr Inskip said the purpose of the luxury bus routes was to show how people's views could be changed by investment.

Three other "premier services" already launched last autumn, the number one, 377 and 451, have shown an increase in passenger numbers of between eight and 10 per cent, he said. Bus use has declined nationally in recent decades as car ownership has increased.

In the West Midlands, the proportion of households with no car has fallen from 51 per cent in 1971 to 34 per cent in 2001.

However, the region has been relatively successful in keeping people on the buses. Last year 310.4 million passengers were carried.

Phil Tonks, of Bus Users UK, said: "They are taking away the stereotype most people have of buses as dirty, smelly and never on time. This kind of thing will make a difference but we need the city council to invest in the idea of more bus priority."

Richard Bowker, chief executive of National Express, parent company of Travel West Midlands, said: "I have no doubt that with these fantastic new buses, we can meet our challenge of getting people out of their cars and attract them on to public transport for the long-term."