Thursday 16th October 2014: For immediate distribution
North East Leaders must vote for proper regulation of buses with a scheme of quality contracts, like in London, say bus passengers group
The local public transport users group welcomes the news that the Leadership Board of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) has been recommended to go ahead with a proper system of regulation of bus services, similar to that in London.
At its meeting on Tuesday, the Leadership Board of NECA will be considering a report from NEXUS which, following public consultation, recommends the establishment of a Quality Contract Scheme for bus services in Tyne and Wear.
NEXUS conclude that the only way forward is to establish a Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) that will both provide real democratic control over bus services and dramatically reduce the costs of providing that service.
Vicki Gilbert, Chair of Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group, said:
“We have been campaigning for over three years for the kind of improvements to our bus services that will only be delivered through this new scheme where bus companies bid for contracts to run services, as they do in London.
It is clear that our elected representatives cannot allow the current unregulated system to continue; doing so would mean more reductions in our services, just as most other parts of the country have suffered.
Equally, the bus companies are only offering more of the same in their proposed voluntary agreement, simply continuing to increase fares above inflation, cut or change services that don’t make enough profit and decide on routes and timetables.
The only way to maintain and improve bus services in Tyne and Wear is by introducing a QCS.
Only a QCS will introduce any sort of democratic control over bus services, and allow decisions about services and fares to be made in the interests of all of the public as opposed to the interests of the bus operators.
Only a QCS will place a limit on the near monopoly profits enjoyed by the bus operators.
Only by making the bus operators compete for contracts will the cost of running buses come down to a level that we can afford.
We are therefore attending the NECA Leadership Board meeting on Tuesday and will have a lobby beforehand, to show our strong support for the Quality Contract Scheme.
Our members include not only current bus users, but many who see that this scheme will bring about better integration of public transport, to enable more people to switch to using public transport.
Public transport needs to play a positive and constructive role in developing our economy while safeguarding our environment and public health, by reducing air pollution.
To do that it needs to work in the public interest and be prepared to work co-operatively with others rather than simply competing for the largest possible profits.
Only a QCS will allow us to build the transport system we need.”
At 13:15 Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group will lobby the NECA Leadership Board outside Newcastle Civic Centre before attending the meeting inside the Civic Centre at 2pm.
Further information from Shirley Ford, TWPTUG Press Officer on 0771 440 1466 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Spokespeople are available for comment
More information on TWPTUG’s support for a Quality Contract Scheme can be found at www.twptug.org.uk
Further detail on TWPTUG’s response to the NEXUS report:
The report from NEXUS to the Combined Authority states that status quo is not viable. Cuts in Government funding available to local authorities, coupled with the fact that the concessionary travel scheme (ENCTS) is underfunded by Central Government, mean that doing nothing will result in cuts in off peak services and services that are socially necessary. These cuts will not be sufficient and the inevitable result will be the removal of many school services and further restrictions on concessionary fares and passes. Cuts on this scale will impact on the majority of families.
The history has been that bus companies have increased fares over and above the levels of inflation that apply to their operations. They have made substantial profits from both these increases in fares and from the sums paid by local authorities to support socially vital bus services and concessionary travel.
The bus companies have been able to make substantial profits because, as large companies operating in a largely unregulated market, they face little competition. In London, where bus services are regulated and services operated under contract, the same bus companies operate and are willing to accept a much lower rate of profit.
The bus companies propose a voluntary partnership agreement (VPA). The idea of partnership suggests, to us, joint decision making and sharing of risks. Unfortunately the VPA offers neither.
· Bus Boards are proposed where most of the items on the agenda will be for discussion only – with the bus operators free to ignore anything that might impact on their profits.
· The bus companies offer to take over some of the loss making services, and incorporate others into their existing routes, but they make no promises that they will be prepared to sustain any losses they then make. They make no promises that current levels of accessibility, vital to many who find it difficult to walk, will be maintained. Above all they can, at any time, decide that they don’t want to run these services and withdraw them at 90 days notice. History tells us that they haven’t been willing to sustain losses on any route without looking for public subsidy and nothing in the agreement says that their behaviour will change.
· Fares will still be able to rise above the level of inflation, helping to maintain their profits, with the only restriction being that they will have to offer a full explanation to the Combined Authority – who won’t be able to do anything about it.
· Substantial amounts of public money, much of it outside of the control of local government, have to be ‘guaranteed’ to the operators regardless of their profitability.
The bus companies tell us that there are some important initiatives in the VPA. For example they want to offer new tickets that could be used, in some limited circumstances, on each other’s services. We ask why they haven’t done this long ago. Fifty additional buses will be provided - but what happens if they don’t make money, and if they expect to make money from new routes why didn’t they do so years ago.
Partnerships work best between equals. The proposed VPA places all of the power and profit in the hands of the bus operators and leaves the local authorities with the responsibility for funding social needs out of a diminishing pot of money. Not only that but the bus operators propose that if, at any time, they have to contribute even a penny more to the pot they will walk away. That sounds to us more like an abusive relationship than a happy marriage.
Whilst the present and the immediate future are important, we need to look at the medium and long term. We all need a better public transport system. In essence the bus operators offer more of the same. In every other city we have looked at this would be regarded as a poor ambition.