Bus services on road to revolution

DELIGHT ... Tyne and Wear Transport Users Group is backing the shake-up.
DELIGHT ... Tyne and Wear Transport Users Group is backing the shake-up.

TRANSPORT bosses are pushing ahead with the biggest shake-up in bus services for years.

Members of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) yesterday agreed a 14-week consultation period over plans for Nexus, which owns the Metro system, to run bus services in the area.

A Quality Contract Scheme (QCS), being proposed by Nexus, would see it define routes, timetables and prices – and receive cash from fares.

Transport firms would be paid a flat fee for running busses on the routes.

The aim is to provide better bus services, while reducing the cost to local taxpayers by £70m.

Key features of the proposal include capping future price rises, making travel cheaper for young people and students, simplifying fare structures, introducing a London-style smart travel scheme and growing services.

The move is bitterly opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, which say it will result in a financial hit for taxpayers and increased fares.

After yesterday’s meeting at Newcastle Civic Centre, South Tyneside councillor, Gladys Hobson, vice-chairman of the ITA, expressed her delight.

She said: “I’m very happy with this.

“As part of the consultation it will go before South Tyneside Labour group and then a recommendation will go to full council.

“My personal point of view is that a QCS is the way forward. I have been involved in public transport since 1985 and remember when deregulation took place. I was very disappointed at the privatisation of bus services.

“The public has to have a voice and a say over the process.”

Coun David Wood, chairman of the ITA, said: “This is an important step by the ITA which has the potential to transform local bus services.

“We estimate that to provide this level of service in today’s deregulated bus market would cost the taxpayer at least £70m more over a decade than if a QCS is introduced.”

The decision to launch a consultation process was also welcomed by Vicki Gilbert, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Transport Users Group.

She said: “People realise that proper regulation of our buses is the only way to stop the decline in bus services, which central government and the private bus companies seem content to preside over. If it’s good enough for London, it’s good enough for us.

“We urged our councillors to have the courage to save our bus services, in the face of huge pressure from the companies, which want to continue making huge profits, and huge Government cuts that threaten current services, and they have done it.”