New bus talks are welcomed by local group

A transport group has welcomed the latest consultation period on plans to change bus operations in the region.

Nexus has gone out for a supplemental consultation on plans to create the UK’s first bus Quality Contracts Scheme.

The proposal is aimed at halting a long-term decline in passenger numbers and protecting services from cuts.

And the move has been welcomed by the Tyne and Wear Public Users group who have backed the plans for a London-style bus regulation scheme.

Group chairman Vicki Gilbert said: “It’s good because some of our criticisms have been taken on board by Nexus.

“We’re really pleased with the new consultation.

“We’re pleased the issues have been taken forward and look forward to a vote in June .”

A full consultation was held between July and November last year, with the supplemental consultation – from April 9 to June 4 – looking at alternative options for a small number of detailed parts.

The alternative options cover the number of contracts to be let, a small modification to proposed fare zones, a change to the proposed vehicle standard and a staggered approach to its introduction.

At the same time talks continue with bus operators on Voluntary Partnership Agreement, as a possible alternative to a Quality Contracts Scheme.

Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, said: “Nexus has begun a short period of supplemental consultation on some detailed aspects of the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme.

“We expect that the response to this, which we will consider alongside the feedback from the main consultation process last year, will allow us to finalise the proposal.

“Nexus has also been working closely with the North East Bus Operators Association, both to understand the details behind the partnership proposal made in December, and to seek to improve upon certain aspects of it.”

A Quality Contracts Scheme would use powers provided by the Transport Act 2000 to make the North East Combined Authority responsible for all aspects of almost all bus services in Tyne and Wear for a ten-year period, potentially beginning in 2016.

Bus services would still be operated by private companies, which would be paid a fee for providing a specified service to the public under contracts of seven to ten years let by Nexus through a competitive process designed to get the best value for money.

Key features of a proposal include limiting future price rises, making travel cheaper for young people and students, and introducing simple fares using a single smartcard.

Improvements to services would be funded by re-investing a greater proportion of the profit operators now make from buses in Tyne and Wear back into local services.