North East bus chiefs call for more bus lanes to beat congestion after being accused of leaving passengers in 'utter misery' due to failing services
North East bus chiefs have been told they must turn around deteriorating bus services that passengers say leave them feeling like “second-class citizens”.
Operators have faced criticism in recent weeks, with many services delayed or cancelled – on top of significant cuts imposed since the Covid pandemic.
North East leaders have told bus company bosses passengers have been left in “utter misery” in some areas thanks to shoddy services and slashed timetables.
But some sympathy remains for firms which have been hit by rising costs and staff shortages.
Martin Gannon, chairman of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC), said he was “pretty unique” in standing up for bus bosses – although he also called for major improvements in public transport to combat climate change and improve air pollution.
“We need to make change,” he told Tuesday’s (December 20) meeting of the panel, “but unfortunately we seem to be going backwards and not forwards.”
According to a JTC report, bus punctuality across the North East had fallen to 85.4% by mid-October, compared to a pre-pandemic baseline of 89%.
Carl Johnson, the deputy mayor of North Tyneside, claimed “utter misery” was being endured by passengers who often have no way of knowing whether a bus is coming or not.
Coun Johnson said: “If we want to combat congestion in our cities and towns, buses will be a critical point and we really need that reliability to get us there.”
The Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group (PTUG) said too many passengers “are being treated as second-class citizens, left standing at stops in freezing temperatures waiting for services that often fail to arrive”.
Calling for companies to reverse cuts to services and give drivers a “more attractive offer”, spokesperson Alistair Ford added: “We know that bus companies are facing pressures from rising costs and staff shortages but the fact remains that passengers in our region are relying on services in serious decline.
"We don’t have frequent services or real-time information at bus stops like London, so passengers often face standing at freezing cold stops for long periods waiting for their buses.
"When your service has been cut to once an hour or every half hour, a cancellation of your bus can cause serious delays and disruption.”
Steve Walker, managing director at Stagecoach North East, told the JTC staff shortages are “no secret”, but insisted that the situation is improving.
He also called for more bus priority routes to help drivers beat congestion and improve reliability and punctuality.
He added: “It will depend on getting the money from the Government, but that is key to getting proper reliability into the bus services and greater passenger confidence.”
Ben Maxfied, business director of Go North East, said: “We have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks producing a strategy for ourselves to ensure we are getting back to those high levels of service delivery.
"We will keep working on that in the coming weeks and months to make sure we get there.”