Stagecoach has turned its council bus row personal after it claimed a local authority takeover would see a fare freeze for a key politician.
The bus firm is among those fighting plans by the five Tyne & Wear councils to introduce strict contracts for who can run which services. The move would see local authorities set all fares, routes and timetables, slashing the profits of bus operators.
With a legal battle already likely, Stagecoach has now hit out at the fare structure, saying the poorest in the region would see an increase while others would avoid too much pain.
Nexus, the council-backed group putting forward the plans, has said some 80% of fares would be capped or frozen, with a slight increase in others.
Stagecoach last night said its analysis of the fares showed a fare hike for parts of Sunderland and South Tyneside while council transport chairman David Wood would see fares in his Walker ward stay flat.
Mr Wood has said the claim is nonsense, and shows, he added, the “increasingly desperate” nature of the bus companies.
Stagecoach North East managing director Phil Medlicott said: “Families struggling to make ends meet on housing estates across Sunderland and South Shields would be hit with massive fares hikes overnight. These are people who have the least scope to make savings elsewhere and it could make bus travel for them financially inaccessible.
“It is also a matter of serious concern that Sunderland and South Shields would see a massive increase in bus fares while fares are protected in the very ward of the Integrated Transport Authority’s chairman, Coun David Wood. Communities south of The Tyne are already battling inequality of opportunity.
“They will rightly be asking why they are paying more to hold fares down for electors in Coun Wood’s own back yard.”
Mr Wood has made clear the only reason fares would stay frozen in Walker is because the council deal would tackle ‘excessive’ bus fares across the majority of Tyne & Wear.
He added: “I would turn their argument on its head and ask why they think people in Walker should subsidise Stagecoach profits. The bus companies have repeatedly raised fares above inflation. We have promised to not increase fares above inflation in future.
“But really, what we are seeing here is that the bus firms are prepared to make some pretty shameless arguments as they get personal and desperate.”
The Stagecoach claim will almost certainly heighten tensions between the two sides. Leaked documents previously showed angry confrontations between the two, with bus firms accusing Nexus of being in the same camp as “Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.”
Nexus deputy director general Tobyn Hughes said: “We simply do not accept the claims made by Stagecoach. They do not publish their fare information and have not shared their analysis with us. The ITA’s Quality Contracts Scheme proposal sets out ‘zonal’ adult fares that apply right across Tyne & Wear.
“The proposed adult fare for a single journey anywhere in Sunderland and most of South Tyneside will be £1.30, all child single fares will be 60p, and a new ticket for 16 to 18-year-olds will cost £7.50 a week.
“Stagecoach say their figures are based on 5 million journeys, which is under 7% of the journeys made on their buses in the North East. This analysis would appear to be selective at best.”