'Return our bus services to public control': North East passenger group's plea to new elected mayor
A North East public transport passenger group has said the new North East mayor must put the control of ailing bus services back into public hands.
Members of the Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group (PTUG) have said that whoever becomes the North East's new mayor must protect the "most used and valuable transport service in our region".
It is after government plans were announced for a possible devolution deal worth £1.4 billion to create a North East Mayoral Combined Authority with a a regional mayor elected in May 2024.
The deal would cover Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham.
After months of frustration over delayed and cancelled buses, politicians hoping to become the North East's new figurehead have been urged to commit to bringing the network back into public hands.
The PTUG said whoever is elected must take the control away from private companies "as soon as they take power".
It is an approach being taken by metro mayor Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, which will this year become the first area outside London to have a regulated bus network since the privatisation of the 1980s and has already put a £2 cap on single journeys.
PTUG spokesperson Alistair Ford said: "The private bus services have been in a downward spiral recently, with large-scale cuts to routes and timetables, high levels of cancellations, and driver shortages.
"We're asking mayoral candidates to correct that as soon as they take power by committing to return our bus services to public control.
"Metro mayors elsewhere in the UK, such as Andy Burnham in Manchester, have shown how their transport powers can allow the integration of all public transport under one banner.
"We've also seen Greater Manchester introduce a £2 fare cap on bus services, making buses more affordable when people are struggling with household bills.
"Public control of buses would allow simple tickets that you could use on bus, Metro, and train services in the region, services could be designed to serve people instead of to generate maximum profit for private shareholders, and fare money could be reinvested in supporting less-used services.
"Franchising would also end the confusing mix of operators across our region, each with their own tickets and fares."
Bus routes across the North East have faced significant cutbacks from operators such as Go North East and Stagecoach since the Covid pandemic hit and councillors have complained that passengers in some areas have faced "utter misery".
However operators have previously spoken out against the idea of a franchising model, which it has been claimed would be a "huge waste of public money", and say they instead want to work with local leaders on a regional Bus Service Improvement Plan awarded more than £160m by the Government.
Andrew McGuinness, of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said on behalf of the North East's bus operators: "The wider investment the new devolution deal will bring to the region is welcome news and follows on from the North East receiving the largest single Bus Service Improvement Plan allocation in England.
"We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with Transport for North East, in conjunction with the new Combined Authority and Mayor on a package of bus policies that are essential to achieving net zero emissions and unlocking major social, economic and health benefits."
A spokesperson for Transport North East said that a future mayor and North East Mayoral Combined Authority "are likely to want to consider bus franchising alongside other ways to improve bus services".
They added: "In the meantime we will continue to progress the region's Bus Service Improvement Plan that will see £164m of investment in better bus services over the next two years."
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