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