Tyne & Wear ‘franchising’ bid rejected
The proposal by the North East Combined Authority to change the way bus services are provided in Tyne & Wear has been turned down.
The Quality Contract Scheme proposals would have allowed the Authority’s Passenger Transport Executive, Nexus, to take control of the entire bus network in the region, setting timetables and fares to give an integrated service with one area-wide fare scale, similar to the system that operates in London. Powers to do this were introduced 15 years ago, in the 2000 Transport Act, though no scheme has yet been put into place: the Tyne & Wear scheme has been taken further than any other region.
The proposals have to be scrutinised by a Quality Contract Board, led in this case by North Eastern Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney. There are five public interest criteria which have to be met, and the Board has concluded that three out of the five have not been met.
It has decided the proposals were not economic, efficient and effective, and that similar benefits could be achieved under alternative partnership plans proposed by the local bus companies. Neither was the Board convinced that the scheme would be affordable: it felt it would be likely to encounter funding issues, putting pressure on fares and the network. The Board did not consider that the proposals would lead to more bus use, nor even to turn round its decline in the area and it concluded that the ‘negative impacts on operators’ would not be outweighed by the benefits to bus passengers.
The alternative partnership plans proposed by the bus companies would limit the number of changes to services, would seek to improve the network and the quality of vehicles provided and would introduce multi-operator and multi-modal ticketing, though would not deliver a unified fare structure: bus operators would still set their own fares levels.
Not surprisingly the local bus companies are pleased with the outcome; while they would have been able to bid to run packages of services specified by Nexus, they would have lost their existing services without compensation. However Tobyn Hughes, managing director of Nexus, said the scheme had aimed to introduce ‘a simple, affordable and integrated public transport system in this area’, and that the Board had recognised that the proposal could indeed achieve such an outcome. He has publicly disagreed with many of the Board’s conclusions, and suggests that it had taken a ‘highly pessimistic and surprising view of financial risks’ which increased Nexus’s cost projections by up to 40%. ‘We will be discussing next steps with the North East Combined Authority’, he said.