A BID to seize back control of bus routes has being backed amid growing anger at “taxpayer funded profits.”
Passengers across Tyne and Wear have been called on to back a campaign urging council transport leaders to opt for a zero tolerance approach to bus firms.
Wearside MP Bridget Phillipson is today launching a website urging people to co-sign a letter pushing for an end to private firms having full control of bus routes.
This September members of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority will be asked to consider moves which would effectively see them become the first in the UK to end more than 25 years of bus privatisation.
The Quality Contract process, fiercely opposed by bus firms, would see councils set prices and routes, putting out the service to tender for just one contractor.
Bus companies have threatened extensive legal action to halt the moves, with a less formal series of changes, a Quality Partnership, also being proposed.
Ms Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said: “The taxpayer currently subsidises this profit, yet we have no say when routes are cut at short notice.
“I have long campaigned for better regulation, more accountability and better value for money from our bus services. On September 27 councillors have a chance to send a clear signal and support a London-style quality contract scheme.
“I’m calling on people all over Tyne and Wear to get involved and support them in making the right call by co-signing my letter on the Big Bus Campaign website.”
Ms Phillipson said that figures from Nexus, the council-backed transport group, show bus operators in Tyne and Wear receive 45% of their income from the taxpayer.
And some of the biggest bus firms, the MP claimed, are enjoying profits of more the 17%. Even Tesco, Ms Phillipson said, only makes a profit of just over 6%.
Bus firms have repeatedly denied the subsidies they receive are as large as they mentioned by Labour politicians. Tom Dodds, a manager at Go North East, said: “Ms Phillipson is wrong to say that taxpayers subsidise bus company profits.
“Bus companies receive no subsidies at all. In Tyne and Wear we are paid £40m for travel for the elderly and the disabled – travel that is worth about £75m.
“We are paid about £10m to run services that few people use but that Nexus deems socially necessary. And we are paid £12m in a partial refund of fuel tax that is used to keep fares low.”
He added: “London’s buses are paid for by local taxpayers and by a large chunk of the hundreds of millions raised by the congestion charge. Support a ‘London-style’ scheme and your are committing Tyne and Wear to having to look at ‘London-style’ ways of finding the money.”