Tagged: Martin Abrams

Spending on buses goes up in urban areas but down in rural parts of North East

Spending on buses is going up in urban areas while it dips in rural parts of the North East, figures reveal.

Data released by the Campaign for Better Transport showed spending on subsidised bus services has risen by 14.3% since 2010 in Tyne and Wear.

Meanwhile, in County Durham and Northumberland councils are spending 29.8% and 15.3% less, respectively.

Martin Abrams, from CBT, said elderly and disabled people are those that suffer.

He said:

“Every single local authority is in a difficult financial position.

“This report isn’t about beating up local authorities – we want to highlight the fact that councils are really, really suffering from the funding cuts imposed on them by central government – but some councils are finding ways of funding services.

“We are concerned for elderly people in rural areas as this will have an impact on them, especially.

“A lot of elderly people take the bus to the shops and they meet their mates. If you take that away then people will be left in isolation and it will have an impact on the social fabric of the country.

“It is the big rural counties rather than urban areas that are making big cuts and it is very worrying.”

 

 Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and transport lead on the North East Combined Authority, said Nexus, which manages transport in the Tyne and Wear area, is dipping into reserves to avoid the funding cuts seen in other areas.

The combined authority has voted to operate a Quality Contract Scheme (CQS) which would see councils take control of fares and services.

He said:

“About 10% of local bus services in Tyne and Wear are paid for by local authorities through Nexus, and that includes all our school buses and special routes for early-morning shiftworkers, as well as many journeys in the evening and at weekends.

“Tyne and Wear has been able to avoid the severe cuts to local bus routes seen in many parts of the country thanks to good planning by local councils and Nexus up to now, but the fact is Nexus is spending the last of its financial reserves to keep these vital services on the road.

“This cannot go on much longer and that is why the North East Combined Authority is pushing ahead with a planned Quality Contracts Scheme, in which some of the large profits made by bus companies in the region are re-invested to protect and improve all local services.

“This will not only protect routes but mean lower fares for passengers, a universal smart ticket like Oyster in London and savings for the local taxpayer.

“Without a Quality Contracts Scheme local people should be under no illusion that local buses face cuts due to the enormous pressure on council spending.”

Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said cutting the bus budget in County Durham had been unavoidable in the backdrop of severe cuts to local authorities.

He said following a consultation in 2011 funding for evening and weekend services had been scaled back to protect those operated during the day.

He added further cuts would make it harder to protect services.

Councils in other parts of the region, such as Darlington and Stockon, have cut funding for subsidised bus routes altogether.

He said:

“There has not been much of a reduction over the last few years, however, as with everything else, given the cuts that are being made by George Osborne that will become more and more difficult.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015

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Claims that North-East rail fares are cheaper than the South is a “myth”, says a passenger group

Cheap North-East rail fares are a “myth” that should be dispelled, campaigners say as the Government proposes increasing tickets prices to pay for better services.

Train fares in the region are already comparable with other parts of the UK and putting up prices to pay for new rolling stock and more frequent services would be unfair, says rail user group Coastliners.

As part of a consultation exercise ahead of the refranchising of the Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) services, the Government has asked users for their views on below-average fares being increased to pay for improvements.

But research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, found that many journeys in the Tees Valley were no cheaper than those in the South-East and London.

Peter Walker, who carried out the study, said the South-East had received massive investment in schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail – and North-East passengers deserved similar levels of funding without seeing substantial price rises.

“We often pay as much for our trains as do those in the Home Counties. It is time to end the double standards of funding so often seen in the years gone by.”

 Coastliners added in its official response to the Government consultation:
“We as a user group would be grateful if this myth of lower fares in the North of England could be abandoned once and for all – it has little basis in fact.”

The findings were supported by Martin Abrams, from the Campaign for Better Transport.

He said:

“There are many myths about rail in the North of England which desperately need dispelling if passengers are to get a fair deal.

“The idea that northern passengers are getting better value for money than passengers in the south is one of these.

“Not only are standard fares very similar across the regions, but investment per head in the south is around twice that per head in the north.”

In response, the Department for Transport said the consultation on the Northern and TPE franchises asked for views on how services could be improved and how this could be balanced with fares.

A spokeswoman added:
“We are currently looking at the responses to that consultation. No decision will be taken without considering local views.

“We are very aware of passengers’ concerns over rail fares, and that is why the Chancellor announced a second year’s freeze in real terms on regulated fares, as well as abolishing train operating companies’ ability to flex prices on unregulated fares.”

The RMT has announced that it will hold an event in the House of Commons to lobby MPs on the Northern and TPE franchises.

The transport union said members and supporters from across the country would attend the event on November 4.

Source –  Northern Echo , 18 Oct 2014

Northern Rail evening rail commuters facing ticket price increases of up to 100%

North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.

The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.

The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.

Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.

The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.

The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.

And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.

Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:

This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.

“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.

“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”

Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:

The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”

Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.

Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:

“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”

Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:

“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”

However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.

He added:

“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  08 Sept 2014