Plans to bring Sunderland buses back into public ownership

Buses on North Bridge Street, Sunderland, with the Wearmouth Bridge in the background.
Buses on North Bridge Street, Sunderland, with the Wearmouth Bridge in the background.
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TRANSPORT chiefs are set to clawback control of Wearside’s “messy” bus network from private companies in the biggest shake-up of services in 25 years.

Passengers across Sunderland have complained for years that private bus firms were leaving them out-on-a-limb by wielding the axe on less-profitable services.

Transport chiefs say the present system has seen private companies take millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash while providing unreliable services, rising prices and leaving some communities with poor transport links.

Tomorrow they will urge councillors to vote plans through to allow a London-style takeover of bus powers, returning responsibility to the five councils in Tyne and Wear.

A report will be put to councillors on the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) detailing the failings of the present system, arguing a radical new scheme would provide better services and value for money.

Bernard Garner, director general of transport executive Nexus, said: “If we are going to save essential bus services from years of cuts, rising costs and falling passenger numbers, we need to think in a totally new way about how they are delivered.

“Commercial bus companies rely heavily on taxpayer income, but there is no body planning public transport to meet local needs and making sure it is delivered cost-effectively.

“The result is a complicated, confusing and wasteful mess with dozens of brands, more than 100 ticket choices and some of our communities poorly served.”

The new scheme would see a single body deciding where and when buses ran and how much they cost, with private companies providing routes under a contract – similar to how Metro operations are run now by private firm DB Regio.

There would be single brand and fare structure, with prices set by the ITA and all income reinvested to support the whole network. The so-called Quality Contract Scheme would be the first of its kind in the country.

If the new proposals are approved, transport chiefs and councillors will developing a scheme which would see one contract drawn-up to provide all public transport in Tyne and Wear, covering about 340 routes in the area.

No buses could operate in Tyne and Wear except under the contract scheme, ending the deregulated market which has been in place since 1986.

The report’s authors say passengers would be given a full consultation on changes to routes and a customer charter to guarantee standards of service.