£1 flat fare proposed for bus travel in Newcastle and Gateshead
A blanket one pound fare for bus passengers could be introduced across Newcastle and Gateshead in a bid to get drivers to ditch their cars.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes has called for the region's bus companies to drop their ticket prices substantially, ahead of new city centre tolls being imposed on some high-polluting vehicles next summer.
It was announced last week that a new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in the city would now come into force in July 2022, having been delayed from an initial start date of January this year.
Buses, coaches, and lorries that do not meet environmental standards will have to pay £50 every day to enter the city's CAZ, while high-polluting taxis and vans will also be hit with £12.50 fees. All cars, however, will be exempt.
Newcastle and Gateshead councils have also dropped plans to shut two lanes of traffic on the Tyne Bridge - claiming that method of discouraging car travel was now "not required" to bring down illegal emissions levels.
Cllr Forbes told a cabinet meeting on Monday, July 29, that leaders were "absolutely determined to improve air quality in the city" and would be pushing bus operators to cut their fares in order to attract more passengers.
He said: "One of the things that would be a real game-changer is having much lower bus fares.
"Part of our campaign over the next year is to get the bus companies to significantly reduce their fares in and out of Newcastle and Gateshead to provide a financial incentive for people to shift.
"I would love a £1 flat rate bus fare for travelling in Newcastle and Gateshead because that would have a huge impact in shifting people out of cars and onto public transport."
Cllr Forbes added that he would also like to see Metro fares cut, but that buses were the priority as they are by far the most-used form of public transport.
North East councils are set to enter into a new partnership agreement with bus companies that will give elected officials more influence over things like bus routes and service changes - but private operators like Go North East and Stagecoach will still be free to set their own ticket prices.
Cllr Forbes also warned that councils would reserve the right to pursue full control over the bus network via franchising unless the partnership system produces higher passenger numbers.
Nick Cott, the city's Liberal Democrat opposition leader, criticised the Clean Air Zone plan for having "an element of shifting sands about it" - having already been redrawn and delayed multiple times and watered down from bigger, stricter proposals that initially included charges for cars.
Cllr Cott added that the changes "don't create a very good impression to residents and businesses of the council's ability to be able to manage this issue in the most effective way".
In response to a question from Lib Dem deputy leader Colin Ferguson, Cllr Forbes also confirmed that new park and ride services into Newcastle are "certainly something that we would consider" in areas of high demand.