The announcement that Go North East will scale back bus services across the North East is utterly predictable. When central government fails to provide proper funding for bus services, companies are forced to cut back on vital bus routes because they are unviable to run. It makes a mockery of levelling up and leaves behind the communities that need public transport the most.
Since the Tories de-regulated bus provision in the 1980s, the majority of bus routes have been operated by private companies, with Nexus stepping in when they can to protect a route where the service is important for local communities by subsidising it on behalf of all the Tyne & Wear local authorities.
But with funding from Westminster consistently reducing over the last ten years of Tory Governments, it is little surprise that, despite being necessary, unprofitable services continue to disappear as local authorities with Nexus struggle to fill the gaps.
This is a system all Tyne & Wear MPs, along with Nexus, tried to overhaul in 2014 by ending this deregulated system that allows bus operators to cut routes. We campaigned hard to bring buses back into a regulated and integrated system like we have in London, but sadly we lost the battle in the high courts.
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Consequently, this is at the heart of the chronic disadvantage that many communities in my constituency face in terms of health, jobs, and education. When you remove key bus services in the area, you compound these issues by making opportunities harder to access. By taking away bus routes and reducing people's ability to get around, you make it harder for local people to make positive improvements to their lives and their community’s prospects. You are far less likely to go to a job interview or schedule a routine GP appointment if it takes twice as long to get there.
To make matters worse, car ownership levels in the North East’s left behind neighbourhoods are among the lowest in the country, while rail services range from being limited to being non-existent for the majority of the areas that I represent. The Tories promised a ‘transformational’ investment in bus services. But millions of passengers are seeing managed decline. The slashing of bus services nationwide is further proof that this Government’s rhetoric about levelling up is nothing more than hot air. They simply will not and cannot deliver for the people that need it most.
If you’d like to make your voice heard about how these cuts will affect you, an online consultation will run until May 31, while the final changes are due to be imposed from July 24 after passengers' feedback is assessed. I can’t count how many conversations I have had with constituents talking to me about how much they rely on local bus provision and I would encourage you to contribute to this consultation.