Transport chiefs have hit out at the Tory-led government’s “absurd and unsustainable” slashing of travel concession funding for the region.
The cash available to councils to subsidise travel for young people and pensioners has been cut by 24% since 2011, the North East Combined Authority has said.
Now, the newly-formed council - which brings together council leaders from County Durham to Northumberland - will lobby MPs in a bid to claw back some of the money, which it says has forced councils to slash services in other areas.
Councils are obliged nationally to provide concessionary travel.
Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and chairman of the Transport North East Committee said concessionary travel is now “woefully under-funded” in the region.
“The Transport North East Committee reviewed the arrangements in place for concessionary travel in the North East,” he said.
“It is clear that the government is woefully underfunding the arrangements, and imposing a 11% cut in 2014-15, and by 24% since 2010-11.
“Since entitlements are set nationally, councils can only meet these cuts by reducing other services.
“This is an absurd and unsustainable situation. There is no value in having a free bus pass, if the services aren’t there for people to use.
“We’re calling on the government to fully fund the costs to the North East of these national arrangements, and support local councils who are fighting to preserve and improve vital bus services.”
The call comes as NECA’s leadership board looks set to approve proposals that would give councils control over bus services.
The controversial quality contract scheme (QCS), which has been recommended by Nexus, would herald a new era of London-style bus powers, with local authorities having final say over where services should run and how often.
Plans for the QCS, however, are bitterly opposed by bus companies, who say it will not protect services.
The North East Leadership Board will decide on the plans at a meeting on October 21 before any system can be drawn up.