Transport ministers are to meet bosses of bus company Arriva to discuss complaints about a key service linking Newcastle with Northumberland and the North West.
They agreed to take action after questions were raised in the House of Commons by Hexham MP Guy Opperman, who said that some of his constituents had even been forced off a bus half way through their journey when the vehicle ran out of fuel.
Transport Minister Norman Baker said he would take up the complaints with Arriva directly.
A spokesperson for Arriva said the firm was already in the process of improving the service.
The row focuses on the performance of the 685 bus which runs roughly once an hour for most of the day between Eldon Square in Newcastle to Hexham, stopping at a number of villages in the Tyne Valley, and then on to Carlisle.
Although the service is run jointly by Arriva and Stagecoach, with different operators operating buses at different times, Mr Opperman said it was services operated by Arriva that he was concerned about.
And he warned there were concerns about Arriva’s performance generally in the North East, where the company runs a range of local services.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he warned: “The quality of bus travel between Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle has suffered terribly due to the mismanagement of Arriva. Specifically, many of my constituents encounter great problems with the service being perpetually late or even buses running out of fuel.
“Will the minister reassure my constituents that the next time he meets Arriva, he will urge it to improve the quality of this service?”
Mr Baker told him: “I am always keen to improve the quality of bus services for passengers. The satisfaction level of bus travel as measured by the independent Passenger Focus is 84%, and in Tyne and Wear, for example, it is 87%. If he is concerned about particular issues in his local area, I would be happy to pursue them with him and the relevant bus company.” Speaking afterwards, Mr Opperman said he had received dozens of complaints from constituents – and had been informed about more than one service when a bus had actually run out of fuel and passengers had been forced to get off.
Constituents had missed hospital appointments or been late to work because of the unpredictable nature of the service, he said.
He said: “I have had persistent complaints about the quality of the service. This has not improved despite me complaining to Arriva. Other MPs in the region have also expressed concern about the poor quality of the service.
“We are putting in place a meeting with the transport minister to discuss how we can bring Arriva to book.”
Nick Knox, area managing director for Arriva North East, said: “We constantly aim to provide the best possible service for our passengers, and we are in the process of upgrading the standard vehicles which Arriva operate on the 685 route to more modern, fully accessible low floor single deckers, with leather coach-type seating.
“We would ask customers to contact us directly with any issues so we can answer their queries in more detail. Our customer service team can be contacted on 0844 800 44 11.”
I have had persistent complaints about the quality of the service. This has not improved