BUS companies are being given a last chance to save their North East routes as city leaders prepare to seize control.
Transport bosses have delayed a decision on whether to take over all routes across Tyne and Wear with a call for the major bus firms to look again at the level of service they offer.
Under potential council plans, local authorities would end up setting all fares, routes and timetables after growing fed up with the service on offer by private sector firms such as Stagecoach, Arriva and Go North East.
Bus companies attempting to see off moves to effectively nationalise their routes have come up with a series of voluntary improvements.
But this week, councillors will be told that despite bus companies in the region having £62m worth of public funding a year their voluntary alternative to council plans includes a saving of just £250,000.
Council leaders have told transport officers at Nexus they want the bus firms to have the chance to come up with a better offer.
They have also privately expressed some reservations over the fare box risk. Under the council plan, bus companies are paid a set fee to run services.
While the services currently make between them a £20m profit, which councils keep, any down turn in the market would have to be paid for out of the some money used to fund day-to-day routes.
Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, said: “At this point in time, no recommendation has been made by Nexus, nor decision taken by the transport authority, to implement a contract system or partnership.
“Further discussions will take place with bus operators to develop the best possible partnership offer, and with adjacent local authorities, to ensure any Quality Contracts Scheme proposals provide benefit to their areas.
“It is expected the transport authority will now receive a comparison of both proposals in late spring or early summer, carried out by Nexus with the assistance of independent advisers.”
Passenger groups last night urged councillors on the transport authority to push for the stronger changes.
Tyne and Wear Transport Users Group, an umbrella group of 15 different bodies, has been campaigning for the past year to persuade councillors to support the best interests of bus travellers by voting for the tough-line Quality Contracts.
Vicki Gilbert, group chair, said: “These proposals will impact by preventing climate change, create safer and sustainable communities and support economic development and regeneration.”
Bus operators said their offer would save the taxpayer money.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said: “This delay gives us more time to work with Nexus to further improve the partnership agreement, to which we remain firmly committed.”