Passengers to be ‘in driving seat’ on bus changes

Passengers and councils have welcomed news that potential changes to bus services in the region have been given the green light.

Leaders of the seven north east councils, the North East Combined Authority (NECA), voted in favour of a scheme to transform the way services are run, bringing the vision of a nationalised bus system a step closer.

They agreed unanimously on Tuesday to submit proposals for the introduction of a Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for consideration by the national QCS Board.

If approved, the scheme would see bus companies bidding for contracts to provide routes for the NECA, rather than pick their own profitable routes, while there would be more public involvement.

NECA would re-invest part of the profit into improving local services.

Mayor Norma Redfearn said: “In North Tyneside we have regularly had complaints about the lack of bus services in the borough and know that it is an important issue for residents.

“I welcome the fact that this will put residents into the driving seat as they will be listened to and more importantly their needs will be acted upon in the provision of local bus services.”

Vicki Gilbert, from Whitley Bay and chairman of the Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group, said: “We are delighted the leaders had the courage to stand up against the bus corporations.

“There will be cheaper fairs, an Oyster card system like London and annual fare rises will be kept down.”

Bus operators proposed an alternative Voluntary Partnership Agreement which would see bus companies working with the Combined Authority under a formal voluntary agreement.

Go North East managing director Kevin Carr said: “I am bitterly disappointed with the decision, but we are not surprised.

“Nexus has convinced the leaders to take a huge gamble, needing an £80m contingency fund on top of £51m in guaranteed funding every year.

“Today’s decision is not final. We expect a far more rigorous examination of the bus contracts proposals by the independent review board.

“There is no evidence that the current system of delivering bus services has failed the north east.

“Our plans would make the bus network even stronger.”

Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, said: “Nexus was instructed to look at the best way to deliver better bus services with the £65m of public money that goes into the system.

“To put it simply, think London. It demonstrates the way to maintain the best network for the people of Tyne and Wear.”

The proposal will now be submitted to the national Quality Contract Board. Their decision will then be referred back to NECA for a final decision. If agreed the aim would be to introduce the Quality Contract Scheme by April 2017.