TRANSPORT bosses are due to meet next week to consider proposals which could bring Sunderland buses back under public control – the first such scheme outside London.
If the plan by transport executive Nexus goes ahead, it will effectively bring to an end the free multimillion-pound market, bus companies such as Stagecoach, Arriva and Go Northeast have enjoyed since the 1980s.
Tyne and Wear’s Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) is due to consider a white paper about the so-called Quality Contract Scheme, drawn up by Nexus at its request.
Should the ITA agree, which its own officers have recommended it does, the paper will go to public consultation.
Under new proposals, companies would have to bid for services they would then run as a contractor of Nexus.
This would put an end to arrangements where operators can choose which routes to operate, should they wish, based on profitability.
Tobyn Hughes, deputy director general of Nexus, said: “Nexus will next week present the work we have done to develop a Quality Contracts Scheme, which is a franchised bus system like those seen in London and mainland Europe, and the outcome of negotiations we have held with bus companies to see if the same improvements can be achieved through partnership.
“It is then a matter for the ITA to decide what next steps to take.”
Stagecoach, one of the companies that would be affected, has spoken out in strong opposition against the scheme, which it says will put tax payers’ money at risk.
Instead, its preferred approach would be to work in partnership with Nexus.
“A partnership approach could bring benefits to Tyne and Wear bus passengers within a matter of months,” a Stagecoach spokesperson said.
“In contrast, a Quality Contract system would take years to implement and would be hugely expensive for taxpayers in the North East.
“The success of the franchising system in London is a misguided argument for the introduction of a bus contracting system elsewhere in the UK.
“The reality is that while London has a comprehensive, good-quality and well-used bus network, it comes at a massive cost to taxpayers.”
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson said: “Both bus operators and Nexus have recognised that the status quo is no longer acceptable. People across Sunderland deserve better.
“I have long campaigned for councillors to support the introduction of London-style bus regulation which has helped keep fares low, increased bus use and improved connectivity.
“Bus operators should respect the democratic process and accept whatever decision councils on our transport authority make.”
The ITA, made up of representatives from the five local authorities in Tyne and Wear, will meet on Friday at Newcastle Civic Centre.