Bus firms have claimed thousands of passengers will lose out as councils move to seize control.
Representatives of the five Tyne and Wear councils are today expected to agree a recommendation to take over buses across their area with new London-style transport powers.
They will work with Metro-owners Nexus to use Government powers to force through a ‘quality contract’ that lets them set all fares, routes, timetables and say who can operate what buses.
The move would effectively nationalise bus routes, but Nexus has made clear it is the only option which prevents severe cuts.
They say that using the £10m a year handed to bus firms in subsidies - and taking the profits - would mean they can avoid slashing 455 bus routes, including all school services, and also protect the Metro Gold Card and the Shields Ferry.
Nexus says it can instead introduce cheaper fares and one ticket for all services under takeover plans.
But bus firms say they could improve services radically if Nexus worked with them on a partnership proposal. This would see new cross-ticketing and the firms take on £360,000 of the £10m subsidised routes, though almost all of the cuts would still have to be made.
Bus firms are expected to launch legal challenges to the plans. Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators Association, said: “Our partnership offering had specific benefits for bus passengers, including cheaper tickets for the thousands of people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t use Metro.
“While the transport authority begins the formal consultation on its quality contract scheme, those benefits will be denied to travellers.
“Partnerships are being signed all round the country, most recently in Tees Valley and the West Midlands.
“At the moment it’s only Tyne and Wear’s councillors who want to risk
a quality contract scheme.”
Kevin Carr, Go North East’s managing director, added: “Transport Minister Norman Baker told Newcastle East MP Nick Brown that his advice to Tyne and Wear was to pursue partnership working with bus operators and to try to secure the best possible outcome for the bus passenger. The ITA seems to be ignoring that advice.”
Councillors on the Integrated Transport Authority meet today to go over the proposed plans.