FORMER London mayor Ken Livingstone has offered his support for a controversial bus shake-up in South Tyneside ahead of a visit to the borough.
The lifelong socialist is right behind plans by transport bosses to take control of bus routes and fare revenues from private bus companies – employing transport firms on fixed contracts – in addition to the introduction of London-style smart travel.
Mr Livingstone said the moves by Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) were “long overdue”.
The 68-year-old, who will bring his An Audience with Ken Livingstone to the Customs House in South Shields this Thursday, has a strong track record in promoting cheaper and improved public transport.
When he was leader of the Greater London Council, in the early 1980s, he slashed bus prices.
In his first term as Mayor of London, in 2004, bus fares were frozen.
He said: “I could never understand why, for so long, the authorities outside of London have not had powers to regulate bus fares or decide upon the frequency of services.
“That never made any sense to me at all. What you have to remember is that there is very little risk in running a bus service.
“Bus companies are making huge profits but that is not being passed on to the passengers in terms of fares and services. This move by the transport authority is long overdue.”
Mr Livingstone’s endorsement was welcomed by Coun Gladys Hobson, South Tyneside Council’s lead member on the ITA, who said: “Mr Livingstone was involved with transport when bus services were deregulated in 1985 across the country – apart from London.
“That really stuck in my throat. It was one rule for London and another for the rest of us.
“I support the quality contracts personally. We can’t afford to keep paying the private companies to fund concessionary fares.
“But we are still in consultation and a final decision won’t be made until next month.”
Mr Livingstone’s endorsement of ‘quality contracts’ does not resonate with Stagecoach North East.
The firm says a publicly-run bus scheme – to be fronted by Metro and Shields Ferry operator Nexus – will lead to fare rises of up to 20 per cent in parts of South Tyneside.
Phil Medlicott, the firm’s North East managing director, claims the plans discriminate in favour of Newcastle at the expense of the poorest borough housing estates.
n Tickets for the show on Thursday cost £16, £14 for concessions. Call 454 1234 for details.