Shocking new statistics show local bus routes in the North East have declined by 50% since 2010, with more than 8,000 services slashed nationwide. This includes a loss of more than 510 North East bus routes in the last year, with overall routes declining 20% nationwide from 2022 to 2023.
The North East has been hit hard, with over 1969 local bus services lost since 2010.
This trend is set to get worse still. In March, the government confirmed it would reduce support for bus services by 23%, which would see almost 400 more services lost based on estimates from the Confederation of Passenger Transport.
“Bus services are the lifeblood of communities”
I’ve just come out of a meeting with the TVCA, and with councillors desperately fighting to retain bus services in East Cleveland. It was only three years ago that Arriva was rejoicing on improved services following a passenger consultation. What happened to customer satisfaction?
Bus services are the lifeblood of communities all over the North East, but every year, thanks to the Tories, more and more are cut off, hitting the local economy, and holding people back.
Redcar & Cleveland services have been hit in exactly this way and continue to vanish. The government is simply not providing the funding necessary that will save these vital lifeline services. Consequently, commercial services are being cut to shreds with very little the local authorities can do.
What is also hard to stomach is the fact that at borough level Redcar & Cleveland have very little leverage and rely on government funding and the TVCA to do our bidding. The Tees Valley Devolution Deal set up at the end of 2015 means it is the TVCA, as the Local Transport Authority, who negotiates the bus service settlement for all five of our Tees Valley boroughs.
Local Authorities such as ours are reliant on these negotiations, carried out on our behalf, to be fruitful. It is the Tees Valley Mayor who has ‘Bus Franchising Powers’, to decide which bus services run, including the routes, timetables and fares.
While glossy brochures and web pages tell us about the aspirations of the Tees Valley Combined Authority, the reality on the ground is local bus services have been run into the ground. Ultimately, it is the residents wanting to get to work or to shop for their groceries or to get to their appointments who are caught in the middle and as a consequence, having to make difficult choices.
A change is needed
We desperately need a change in government so Labour can put passengers first by allowing communities to take back control over their bus services.
Labour mayors are leading the way introducing £2 fares and have plans to build a London-style transport system handing power and control back to communities. And Labour nationally will launch the biggest reform of Britain’s broken bus system in forty years, by putting control over services back into the hands of the communities that depend on them.
Labour’s bus reform plan would do three things:
· Allow communities to take back control of bus services: Labour would give all local transport authorities the power to take back control of bus services, extending the opportunity to franchise services to every community (currently only available to metro mayors). Smaller local transport authorities will be offered expert advice and support to assist with the path towards franchising services, with the Bus Directorate in the Department for Transport refocussed to deliver support to local transport authorities.
· Lower the legal hurdles to franchising with a presumption in favour of franchising to end the costly and time-consuming hurdles which delay much needed reform and prevent communities from having a say in how their bus services are run.
· Lift the legal ban on municipal bus ownership introduced by the Conservatives in 2017 following intensive lobbying by vested interests. This would allow communities that want to establish their own municipal bus network, building on the success of areas like Nottingham City Council which has the highest satisfaction ratings in the country.
Councillor Carl Quartermain
Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council
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