The region’s bus operators had predicted major cutbacks to routes equivalent to almost a fifth of their mileage after the coronavirus pandemic saw passenger numbers and revenue plummet.
But many under-threat routes appear to have won a stay of execution, after transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the government would extend emergency Covid grant funding, offering bus and light rail operators in England more than £150 million, propping them up until October.
On Tuesday (March 15), North East leaders were told the extra cash would allow Go North East, Stagecoach, and Arriva to press pause on many proposed expected in May.
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But Transport North East managing director Tobyn Hughes warned it was already too late to stop some planned cuts across the region and that passengers should expect significant service reductions come October, as ridership levels struggle to return to pre-Covid rates.
It is feared that the cuts, labelled the biggest change to local bus services for 35 years, will mean fewer early morning or late night services, reduced access to city centres and even see some outlying communities cut off entirely.
Mr Hughes told the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC): “Having had discussions with local bus operators, we understand that the government announcement has led to local operators putting on hold any further reductions to bus services in the next few months.
“While they have been contemplating some, while the funding has been extended they are putting them on hold.”
The news comes after Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham announced plans to cap bus fares in his area at £2 per journey, under a new franchise system that will see new powers handed to local authorities.
South Tyneside councillor Jim Foreman urged the JTC to pursue similar arrangements in the North East as private operators “only answer to one God and that is profit”.
However, any changes are impossible without a new devolution deal for the region.
JTC chair and Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon warned that without extra resources for public transport there will be a “tsunami of cuts” to bus services.