A key bus service linking Newcastle with Northumberland and the North West is to be improved following action by an MP, bus bosses have announced.
Transport firm Arriva is to introduce a new bus fleet on the 685 service after Hexham Tory MP Guy Opperman warned that passengers were suffering delays and cancellations.
Some had even been forced off vehicles half-way through their journey because the bus ran out of fuel. After raising concerns in the House of Commons, he met Arriva chief executive David Martin to hammer out a better deal for passengers.
And the firm has now announced plans to bring in a new fleet of ‘Omnicity’ single-decker buses, which are much newer and much more reliable, to travel the route.
The 685 runs roughly once an hour for most of the day between Eldon Square in Newcastle and Carlisle bus station via Hexham, Northumberland. Mr Opperman received dozens of complaints from constituents – some had missed hospital appointments or been late to work because of the unpredictable nature of the service, he said.
But last night he said of the new buses: “This is excellent news and a significant upgrade to the service we have now. The proof will be in the pudding but I genuinely think Arriva have listened to the issues I have raised. To bring in this new fleet will make a big difference to the service passengers receive and I am hopeful it will go a long way to solving the problems on the 685.”
Arriva have also committed to providing the MP with monthly updates on performance and to consider providing compensation to passengers who raised concerns.
The company has also agreed to formally visit Haydon Bridge Parish Council to hear their concerns. The parish council, which is served by the 685, wrote to Mr Opperman highlighting the problems earlier this year.
Mr Opperman will try the route for himself in August – alongside Nigel Featham, Arriva’s md in the North East – to make sure improvements have been made. He said: “Rural bus services are vitally important but it is also important the service provided is up to scratch. I think we have made big strides here on the 685 route and I will be trying it for myself in August to make sure the concerns we have raised have been acted upon. I think this one looks like a good result all round.”
Mr Featham said: “At Arriva, we take customer service seriously. We met Guy Opperman MP who raised a number of issues about service 685 on behalf of constituents, which we have taken on board.
“Most of the problems stem from the age of the vehicles on the service. We have agreed to allocate much newer ‘easy access’ leather- seated single-deck buses to the route from this week onwards. We are also taking a number of steps internally which should ensure the service settles down to good levels of reliability quickly.
“In order to encourage people to try the service, and as a thank-you to existing passengers for bearing with us, we have been issuing free travel vouchers and taster tickets in the area, which have seen good take-up.”