D-Day for future of bus services in Sunderland

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A TRANSPORT D-Day is fast approaching after the battle lines were drawn over the future of bus services in Sunderland.

Metro operator Nexus wants Tyne and Wear to adopt a London-style public ‘quality contract’ for bus operators.

That would mean it having the final say over where services should run as well as setting timetables.

Bus operators would then need to bid for the right to run the franchise.

Nexus claims its system would see £8million saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.

But the region’s biggest bus operators – Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva – have criticised those plans as the most expensive option to the taxpayer.

They say their partnership of private sector bus companies can offer financial savings of up to £2million a year, extra buses, low carbon vehicles and better value fares.

Now a decision over which of the options will go-ahead is to be made by the new North East Combined Authority on Tuesday, October 21.

Its board is made up of the seven leaders of the region’s seven local authorities, including Labour’s Coun Paul Watson in Sunderland.

“Clearly, we’ve had people asking why we don’t have full control over bus journeys and bus routes,” Coun Watson told the Echo. “At the end of the day, the issue about quality contracts is what will be best for the community, whether buses are a social necessity or should be run as a business. I will make up my mind when we have all the information, on the day of the meeting.”

Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, said: “Nexus has developed a Quality Contract Scheme that provides for, among other things, simplified fares valid on any bus, with overall fare reductions for adults and significant discounts for children and young people; a single smartcard offering a best price guarantee for travellers; a stable bus network that would only be changed through a democratically accountable process; an improved minimum standard of vehicle quality and transparent performance requirements.”

Kevin Carr, chairman of the North East Bus Operators’ Association (NEBOA,) said the Nexus plans were “based on a mistaken claim that bus operator profit margins in the North East are higher than in the London contracted bus market”.

He added: “The reality is that the ‘profit difference’, which Nexus relies on to make its proposals financially viable, does not exist. It is simply a difference in the paper-based accounting of vehicle interest costs. We have put together a very strong partnership package that gives passengers what they want and at the same time meets the objective of councils in the North East to save money.

“In contrast, the bus contracts plan will substantially increase the cost to the combined authority of delivering public transport services in Tyne and Wear. It raises the prospect of substantial above-inflation fare rises for passengers and exposes local taxpayers to significant financial risks.”