‘War’ on the way over Tyne and Wear bus route takeover

Representatives of the five Tyne and Wear councils will be recommended to back a controversial plan to take over bus routes

The X6 bus leaving the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle
The X6 bus leaving the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle

Bus routes are likely to be taken over by councils in what has been called a “declaration of war” on transport firms.

Representatives of the five Tyne and Wear councils will be recommended to back a controversial plan to effectively nationalise bus routes, granting the region London-style powers over bus fares, timetables and routes.

Nexus, which put together the recommendation for a quality contract process, says it must act now to prevent cuts to the £10m-a year subsidised bus network and other benefits.

In a document prepared for members of the Integrated Transport Authority, councils are warned that without change cuts will mean the money behind all 255 school buses would be removed.

Another 200 bus routes would likely disappear, as would concessionary child fares. Also for the axe would be the Shields Ferry and the Metro Gold Card.

This can be avoided, councils have been told, if they take over the bus routes, using the subsidy and profits to grow the service.

Bus firms have already warned they will challenge the plans in the courts, insisting their voluntary plan to improve services can deliver transport benefits.

Councillors meeting to discuss the plans on Friday are likely to be divided, with opposition Conservative leader Peter Wood saying it “represents a declaration of war by Nexus on the bus companies”.

He added: “Nexus believes Stagecoach, in particular, is making too much profit from its provision of bus services in Tyne and Wear.

“But would halving Stagecoach profits really finance better bus services across the board? In the post-war period this was Labour’s argument in favour of nationalisation. That didn’t work either.

“The aim should be better bus services for passengers in Tyne and Wear, not wresting control of those services from the bus companies.

“A quality contract network would take at least two years to introduce, much longer if, as they have promised, the bus companies make a legal challenge and the courts have the final say. Nexus willing, a quality partnership could be up and running in months.

“Quality contracts transfer the financial risk of running bus services from the bus companies to local councils – any losses would be borne by the council taxpayer.”

The Labour chair of the transport authority, Newcastle’s David Wood, said it was “a shame” the Sunderland councillor had spoken out ahead of the full debate this week.

He added: “The ITA has done a lot with Nexus and bus operators and it is important to say a decision has not been made yet.

“This is not nationalising this is about getting the best for the travelling public in Tyne and Wear, and that will involve discussions with bus companies thoughout.”

Labour councillors and others have been urged to back the plans by Wearside MP Bridget Phillipson, who has led a campaign to get services improved.

The Houghton and Sunderland South MP said: “Local councillors on our Transport Authority face a clear choice. They can either maintain a failed system where operators dictate terms to commuters and local authorities with no legal guarantees, or they can support the introduction of London-style regulation which could help grow our economy and provide better services to passengers.”

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