Tyne and Wear bus service talks spark dispute over cost of fares

UP to a fifth of bus fares in Tyne and Wear could rise if councils take control, critics have warned.

UP to a fifth of bus fares in Tyne and Wear could rise if councils take control, critics have warned.

Local authorities are set to consider introducing ‘quality contracts’, in which they roll the clock back 30 years and take charge of bus routes.

And while the moves would see around 80% of fares either unaffected or even fall in price, provisional figures suggest some customers will suffer.

Later this year, councillors sitting on the Integrated Transport Authority will be asked to choose between the strict new contracts in which they set the fares, routes and timetables or a similar plan in which bus companies promise to work for the same aim.

In the takeover option, councils take on the financial risk and control of the farebox.

Peter Wood, a Sunderland Conservative who sits on the transport authority, warned against the move.

He said Nexus wanted to introduce zonal fares, “a simpler fare structure which would make bus and Metro fares the same” but shorter journeys more expensive.

“Simplifying fares, where it can be done, is a good idea but not when it results in higher fares for shorter journeys,” Coun Wood said. “That is simply not fair and will drive passengers away.”

He was backed by Newcastle Liberal Democrat Greg Stone who said: “The big questions are whether passengers will accept that quality contracts offer enhanced customer satisfaction, and whether local authorities and the taxpayer are happy to take on the financial burden if passenger levels don’t increase as forecast. The jury is still out on whether this is the best option.”

Tobyn Hughes, Nexus director of customer services, said: “A Quality Contracts Scheme would give local people a straightforward and simple system of fares across bus, Metro and ferry, benefiting everyone who uses public transport. Our early work on prices suggests that four out of five fare-paying adult bus passengers would pay roughly the same as now or less.

“One in five might see a modest price increase in a move to a set of fares that offers far better flexibility than today. One of the major areas of improvement we are looking at is a better value fare for young people aged 16-18 that works on all forms of public transport.

“These customers in particular have told us that they do not find that the current system works for them.”

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