North East leaders urge government rethink on bus travel funding over fears of looming 'quality of living crisis'

North East leaders have pleaded with the Government to act now to save bus passengers from being hit with yet more devastating cuts.

Ministers have been warned they must offer to extend emergency cash support to bus companies to stave off another swathe of service reductions.

Government grants have propped up struggling public transport providers suffering from heavily reduced passenger numbers since the onset of the Covid pandemic.

But while patronage levels on North East buses are still roughly a quarter down on pre-Covid times, the Bus Recovery Grant is due to expire at the start of October.

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There are fears across the North of England private bus companies will announce a raft of new cuts if the funding is discontinued.

Routes across the North East have already seen major cutbacks this year, with Tyne and Wear Metro operator Nexus estimating roughly 100 fewer buses per day are now running in the area compared to March.

Go North East imposed reduced timetables last month and has confirmed more are to come in September, while transport chiefs fear Arriva and Stagecoach will imminently slash services too – either by reducing bus frequencies or cancelling some routes entirely.

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North East Joint Transport Committee chairman Martin Gannon

Martin Gannon, chairman of the North East Joint Transport Committee and leader of Gateshead Council, said ongoing support was “desperately” needed to safeguard vital services.

He added: “If the government doesn’t rethink the imminent withdrawal of funding, we will not only be facing a cost of living crisis, but a quality of living crisis too.”

Northern mayors, including the North of Tyne’s Jamie Driscoll, have warned more cuts would have a “devastating” impact on working families and “only add more hardship to those already suffering under this cost of living crisis”.

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In a letter to Boris Johnson, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, they wrote: “In each of our regions, bus operators have now notified that they intend to withdraw hundreds of bus routes resulting in many communities losing access to any form of public transport.

"In addition, a large number of routes will lose all services after 7pm in the evening, preventing many shift workers using bus services to travel to and from work.

"Over half of all bus routes will be affected in some form.

“Without action, the changes to bus provision will have a devastating effect on the communities affected, add to the cost of living crisis and will compromise the aims of the National bus Strategy introduced just last year.”

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As well as Mr Driscoll, the letter was signed by West Yorkshire mayor Tracey Brabin, South Yorkshire’s Oliver Coppaird, and the Liverpool City Region’s Steve Rotheram.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We have committed to investing £3 billion into bus services by 2025, to improve fares, services and infrastructure, and given nearly £2 billion since March 2020 to bus operators and local authorities to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

“We continue to listen to the sector and work closely with operators and local transport authorities to support network planning, ensuring all possible steps are taken to protect services.

“To maximise this investment, local authorities and operators need to work together to ensure routes are commercially sustainable and reflect the needs of passengers post-pandemic.”