Train passengers in the North East expressed their “disappointment and anger” over the reprivatisation of East Coast train services.
The franchise was handed over to Stagecoach and Virgin – an act rail users in Tyne and Wear described as a “fait accompli.”
“Our publicly owned East Coast rail returned money to the taxpayer over the last five years, contributing to £1 billion to the government – far more than when it was run by private companies GNER and National Express,” said Vicki Gilbert, chair of the Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group.
“For rail passengers from the North East and elsewhere, it is likely that there will be new larger fare increases along with cuts in costs, by reducing the staffing on trains and at stations.
“This will mean a poorer service for passengers, while profits go into the pockets of the Stagecoach and Virgin’s companies shareholders.
“This cost cutting is very concerning for everyone but particularly for the disabled and vulnerable, who rely on assistance with wheelchairs and pushchairs.
“This will also affect passengers’ personal security, with figures already showing an increase in violence, drinking, anti-social behaviour and attacks across the entire rail network in England.”
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn also expressed his opposition to the move, which the government hopes is a case of third time lucky after two previous private franchises running the line collapsed, causing it to be placed into the hands of the state owned Directly Operated Railways in 2009.
“Over the past six years since it was re-nationalised the East Coast mainline has gone from strength to strength and it is a disgrace that the Tories are selling it off before the election,” Mr Hepburn said.
“The Tory-led Government’s plans defy all logic and by taking East Coast out of public ownership all the government is doing is passing the income the line raises into the back pockets of the profiteers.”
Under the new name of Virgin Trains East Coast, the franchise’s first service left Newcastle bound for London at 7.55am on Sunday.
The Department for Transport said it was confident that the new franchise was the best way forward, but trade unions have pointed to the huge sums the publicly owned line has been able to return to the Treasury.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It is disappointing to see East Coast in private hands after five years of public sector success. The Government’s decision to re-privatise the line is a costly mistake.”
But a Department for Transport spokesman said:
“The skills and experience that the private sector provides drives forward innovation and investment, and has helped to transform our rail network into a real success story.
“We are confident that the new East Coast franchise gives the best deal for passengers. It will provide more seats, more services, new trains and over £140 million of investment along the route. In addition, more than £3 billion will be paid to taxpayers.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Mar 2015
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