A bus company has been attacked by a Labour MP for “salami slicing” services after it emerges 80 journeys a day have disappeared under a rerouting programme.
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson has criticised Go North East for cuts to bus services across Tyne and Wear, citing a study by Passenger Transport Executive Nexus.
Sunderland is shouldering most of the burden, the MP says, with changes to routes and timetables to the 35, 35A, 35B and 35C services.
The MP says her office has fielded calls from people worried about links to schools and health facilities.
She adds it is difficult to compare the new route map and timetable information with previous versions and people have concerns that the re-routing of the 35 services will significantly disrupt journeys to nearby GP practices in Silksworth, Herrington and Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Children may also have to take longer journeys to schools such as the Venerable Bede Academy because they will have to change buses.
Go North East said the changes will simplify services, but four variations have already been made to routes 35, 35A and 36 since November.
The MP said:
“The volume of service changes implemented by Go North East this week is likely to cause a great deal of confusion and inconvenience to many people.
“I have received many emails and phone calls from worried constituents expressing their concerns over changes to the route 35 service.
“Go North East say this is about simplifying things, but there have been 15 variations in this route since 2011 and I cannot see how this constant chopping and changing is making things simpler. The new route maps and timetables are also presented differently from older versions.
“People are understandably angry about the fact that four services have been reduced to three. Across the region estimates show that as many as 80 routes a day will be cut.
“Go North East should explain why these changes are being implemented and how they are in the best interest of passengers.
“This salami slicing of services shows exactly why we must introduce a London-style bus network with stable routes, oyster style ticketing and fines for operators when they fail to live up to their promises.”
Managing director of Go North East Kevin Carr, said the changes were introduced after a consultation with Nexus and customers.
He said many of the services now travelled closer to shops.
He said: “We are the number one bus operator in Sunderland and it’s really important that we adapt our services to meet customers’ needs.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Jan 2015
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.
“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.
“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.
“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
The North East Combined Authority has voted for a plan which could give councils power over when and how often bus services run in Tyne and Wear
What is a QCS?
A Quality Contract Scheme is a legal power over bus services by a council. In this case, the North East Combined Authority will set ticket prices, routes and timetables across Tyne and Wear and on some routes in and out of County Durham and Northumberland.
NECA will also decide what types of buses are used. Nexus, the public body which devised this scheme and currently manages the Tyne and Wear Metro, will collect fares and pay bus companies to provide bus services through contracts. This is a big change to the present market, where buses companies decide on prices and routes.
What is wrong with the current system?
NECA believes a QCS will be better than leaving things as they are. It argues people are put off using buses because fares have gone up on average 3% more than inflation for a decade.
Today, councils pay bus operators to provide less-used bus services, and subsidise some fares – as well as funding the free bus pass for older and disabled people.
This adds up to £56m-a-year in Tyne and Wear, money is running short and the cost of the free bus pass – which councils must pay by law – is growing, meaning that the other bus services councils pay for will have to be withdrawn.
So, everyone agrees it is great?
Not exactly. The bus companies – mostly Stagecoach, Arriva and Go-Ahead – strongly disagree with the move and recommended a voluntary system that gives them more freedom. They say a QCS a “huge gamble” that could lead to higher fares, worse services and higher tax bills in the long run.
Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, also has “serious concerns”. He said profitable services in urban Tyne and Wear subsidise the rural bus network in Northumberland and County Durham. He is worried that subsidy would dry up under the new QCS.
Will it mean services cost more or less?
Nexus says fares are likely to go down. Future fare rises will be limited to inflation levels and only changed once a year.
New cheap fares for people aged 16 to 18 will be the same price as today’s fares for children.
There will be discounts for students and a new deal for older and disabled people who want to travel before 9:30am.
Nexus says around four in five adult passengers will see prices stay the same or go down when the new QCS fare zones begin.
Won’t this cost councils lots of money, then?
The idea is it will actually save councils money. Bus companies now make about £20m profit in the region every year, but Nexus estimates 80% of that money leaves the region. NECA says more of this profit from fares will be re-invested locally and this in turn will protect services now funded by councils that might otherwise be lost.
How would an Oyster card-style system work here?
In London, the one Oyster card allows you to travel on any bus, any train, any tube or any ferry. They can use Oyster as a season ticket or they can use Oyster to pay for single journeys.
The Tyne and Wear version will be called the Smartcard. Having one will get you on any bus, any Metro, the ferry or local train.
If you travel paying for single journeys and reach the daily ticket price, what you pay is capped – so you will always get the best deal, without needing to plan your day in advance. The technology for the Smartcard is in place already.
What if I am travelling in or out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham or Northumberland?
Most bus routes in and out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham, and some of those from Northumberland, are included in the plan for the whole route. That means the Smart tickets, the QCS network and lower prices will be available when you travel into Tyne and Wear.
Will there be fewer buses and will buses go the same routes?
Routes will be the same as now on the first day of a QCS, Nexus says. The difference is people can suggest improvements through new Bus Boards in each area.
Council leaders want to protect services and begin to grow them. They hope it will ultimately mean cheaper fares and bus and rail networks that work together better.
If the QCS does not happen, Nexus and NECA say cuts are inevitable, particularly to young people’s fares, school buses and evening services now paid for by local councils.
How will the process work if QCS is passed?
It will be April 2017 before a QCS starts – council leaders will make a final decision next year after an independent panel has reviewed the 900-page scheme agreed by NECA this week. If it goes ahead it will take Nexus two years to let contracts and gear up for change, with lots of information and engagement with customers on fare changes, smart cards and other benefits.
What happens to the bus companies and their staff?
About 3,000 people now work on bus services in Tyne and Wear, which in future will be included in the Nexus contracts.
Staff will work on the same routes and their jobs, wages and pensions will be protected by law – plus Nexus has said it will give further protections to staff – even if they have to change the bus company they work for. The scheme is supported by the Unite union.
What will happen if bus companies take legal action in the meantime?
Bus companies are worried they will lose business to rival bidders. They have threatened legal action against NECA and Nexus. Both public bodies insist they are using the law properly, however.
Nexus says QCS is legal and based on the best available facts and figures. It has also said all possible steps will be taken to make sure legal action doesn’t slow down its plan for a QCS.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Oct 2014
Control over bus services looks set to be placed in the hands of councils in the biggest shake-up of public transport for a generation.
Members of the North East Combined Authority have voted unanimously for the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for the Tyne and Wear area.
The proposals – if passed by an independent review board – will signal a new era of London-style bus services where passengers carry a pass similar to the capital’s Oyster card and councils decide on fares and when/how often services run.
Tyne and Wear would also stand alone outside London operating a QCS system in the biggest change since buses were de-regulated in the 1980s.
North East bus companies who bitterly opposed the plans – which will see them compete for contracts say they will continue to fight.
Councillor Nick Forbes, regional transport lead for NECA, said:
“We realise that the bus companies will find this decision disappointing. But leaders took their decision balancing the wider public interest and concluded that the voluntary arrangements proposed by the bus companies could simply not deliver our ambitions for better bus services.”
The proposals, put together by Nexus, came about after bus fares in the region rose by around 3% above RPI inflation each year since 1995.
> Not to mention all the routes the private companies, especially Stagecoach, axed. Paying more for less – it’s the British way.
Vicki Gilbert, chairwoman of Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group, welcomed the decision and said:
“Only a QCS will introduce any sort of democratic control over bus services, and allow decisions about services and fares to be made in the interests of all of the public as opposed to the interests of the bus operators.
“Only a QCS will place a limit on the near monopoly profits enjoyed by the bus operators. Only by making the bus operators compete for contracts will the cost of running buses come down to a level that we can afford.”
Kevin Carr, Chair of the North East Bus Operators’ Association (NEBOA), said:
“We are very disappointed, but not surprised, at the decision to press on with the contract scheme.
“Nexus has convinced the leaders to take a huge gamble, needing an £80m contingency fund on top of £51m in guaranteed funding every year. It’s not the best way of securing vital bus services for communities in Tyne and Wear.
“The latest Nexus proposals don’t offer a single extra bus or any expansion of the bus network. Bus passengers in Tyne and Wear deserve better than this scheme, which will lead to higher fares, worse bus services and higher council tax bills.”
Mr Carr added NEBOA would continue to oppose the plans at the review stage.
“Today’s decision is not final. We expect a far more rigorous examination of the bus contracts proposals by the independent review board.
“The board has a duty to determine whether these plans meet key legal, economic and value for money tests.
“We do not believe these tests have been met and we will make robust arguments to the review board to demonstrate this. Unless all of the tests have been met, the bus contracts scheme as it stands cannot be implemented.”
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, however, said the bus companies must accept the decision.
She said: “The bus operators should now respect this democratic decision and work to support passengers.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 22 Oct 2014
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014
Campaigners hoping for changes to bus services met in Sunderland City Centre in an effort to gather support to lobby decision makers.
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson joined members of Sunderland Transport Users’ Group (STUG) and Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Users’ Group (TWPTUG), to encourage passers-by to sign postcards to send to members of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority.
The passengers are lobbying for the introduction of quality contracts, which will bring buses into public control and end the bus companies’ freedom of picking only profitable routes. Instead the firms will have to bid for contracts handed out by Nexus.
The proposal is bitterly opposed by bus companies. But many users of public transport want it introduced, saying it will make services simpler, cheaper and centrally controlled.
STUG spokesman Helmut Izaks said: “Hopefully it will give more power to the people to decide where buses go instead of the companies having all the power, and it will also prevent companies from withdrawing services early.”
Miss Phillipson said: “Transport is a significant cost to families. A high quality, affordable and accessible public transport system is vital to ease the cost of living for local people and encourage businesses to set up base in Sunderland.
“For over three years I’ve been campaigning for a London-style system of bus regulation in Tyne and Wear. Such a system could see great improvement for many in our community and cheaper fares for the majority of bus users. I’m delighted that Tyne and Wear Transport Users Group also see the benefits of this change.”
For more information about the campaign, visit www.twptug.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Metro chiefs are to look at closing ticket stations across the network.
Rail owner Nexus says it is looking at which of its nine ticket offices could be closed down now that it has rolled out new ticket machines and electronic passes.
No decision has yet been made, though it is thought at least some ticket offices will stay open, and that the several dozen staff working at the current offices will be helped to find work elsewhere in the Metro system if possible.
> Note the “ if possible.” Otherwise it’ll be goodbye and a free Metro ride to your nearest jobcentre.
Huw Lewis, head of communications at Nexus, said: “We are witnessing a big change in how people buy and make journeys as we roll-out smart travel on the Pop card and give customers new more flexible ways to pay. We are reviewing what this means for our nine travelshops but it is clear we still want an over-the-counter service for our customers. We have made no decisions, and we would talk to our staff first and consult with service users on any proposed changes.”
> As ever, they’re making cuts because we, the customer, want it. Or do we? Quite often changes in behaviour are the result of earlier cutbacks in the first place.
There are currently nine travelshops, including three in Newcastle city centre at Central, Monument and Haymarket stations and others at Gateshead, Heworth, Four Lane Ends and Sunderland Park Lane interchanges, as well as at North Shields and in South Shields.
Nexus has made changes to its travelshop network before, previously closing shops at Washington, Blaydon and Metrocentre at different times over the last 15 years.
A recent decision to close ticket offices on the London Underground prompted strike action.
John McDaid, for Unison, said they were hopeful jobs losses could be avoided.
He said: “With the new ticket machines coming on there was always the likelihood of this. We are in general consultation about the future of the travelshops. Although the way people buy tickets has obviously changed, we are in talks aimed at looking at other ways we can use the staff involved, and so far we are hopeful that people will not be losing their jobs as a result.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 11 Feb 2014
A long-running dispute which saw 19 days of strike action by cleaners working on the Tyne and Wear Metro has been resolved in the clearner’s favour.
Over the past 18 months, the staff, who are employed by Churchill Services, have fought bosses over minimum wage and workplace justice. and have now been offered a 5% rise over the next four years and an extra day’s leave from January 2014.
The general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, Bob Crow, said it was a “landmark victory”.
Mr Crow said: “This pay deal, which lifts our cleaner members on this key North East transport contract out of the shackles of the minimum wage and on the pathway to a living wage, is a breakthrough that will send out the clearest possible signal to low-paid workers throughout the land that if they fight, they can win.”