Sunderland bus plan hits opposition

Go North East service delivery manager Geoff Cook talks to customers about bus services.
Go North East service delivery manager Geoff Cook talks to customers about bus services.
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A BUS company boss has launched a stinging attack on plans to claw services back into public ownership.

As reported in the Echo, transport chiefs have proposed a London-style takeover, returning responsibility for service control to Sunderland and other Tyne and Wear councils.

They claim the present system is a mess, with private companies take millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash while providing unreliable services.

Today, the top man at one of Wearside’s biggest bus companies said proposed Quality Contracts were just a power grab which would leave passengers worse off.

Peter Huntley, managing director of Go North East, said: “This comes when we need to make every taxpayer’s pound deliver on real bus services for the community, not pay for political attempts to grab power.”

Mr Huntley also rounded on Nexus director general Bernard Garner, who described Sunderland’s bus services as “a complicated, confusing and wasteful mess with dozens of brands, more than 100 ticket choices and some of our communities poorly served”.

He said: “Bernard Garner describes customer choice as a mess, and doesn’t seem to understand that it is precisely this ‘mess’ which has turned the previous tide of decline and increased bus use.”

He claimed market research, branding, and discount tickets had reversed the “long decline” of passenger numbers.

Mr Huntley also attacked Mr Garner over his claims that bus companies rely heavily on taxpayer income, which comes through subsidies for services and concessionary travel.

He said 95 per cent of Tyne and Wear passengers travel on commercial bus services wholly funded by commercial revenues.

He said: “The law requires us to be ‘no better and no worse off’ financially. We certainly don’t make money out of it.”

In defence, Mr Garner said: “We’ve been asked by the ITA to develop and compare plans for either a contracts scheme where bus companies bid to run routes in Sunderland, or a partnership with them.

“The cost of developing our proposals will be around £600,000 – much less than Mr Huntley believes and a fraction of the amount the taxpayer provides to bus companies in Tyne and Wear every year, while having hardly any say in how local services are planned and delivered.”

“The key question is not about power, but whether an essential local public service is as good as it should be.

“Peter Huntley has been invited to a meeting next week to discuss working in partnership, and we hope to continue this dialogue with his successor at Go North East when he steps down at the end of the month, as well as with Stagecoach and Arriva.”

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