In a move which could signal the biggest changes to the way buses operate across the region since de-regulation in the 1980s, members of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) have agreed to submit proposals for the introduction of a Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for consideration by the national QCS Board.
The north east is the first part of the country to reach this stage in developing a QCS, under legislation introduced in 2000. The new scheme proposed by Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, would see bus companies contracted to provide routes by the NECA.
Local authorities currently use their powers to supplement the network by subsidising routes which would not be commercially viable for bus operators. Under the QCS, operators would provide services on a range of routes to a contractually agreed price.
Nexus claims the proposed scheme would allow NECA to re-invest part of the profit buses make in Tyne and Wear to improve local services. The QCS would apply to Tyne & Wear and to services which cross into Northumberland and County Durham. Leaders also agreed a protocol to avoid any adverse impacts on other services in Northumberland and County Durham.
Councillor Nick Forbes, Regional Transport lead for the NECA, said: “After a lengthy and careful consideration of the QCS proposals, and the Voluntary Partnership Agreement the Leadership Board felt that the QCS scheme was in the best interests of bus users in the region.
“The proposal presents the best option for increasing passenger numbers, protecting important but less profitable bus routes, preserving concessionary fares and providing a clear and easier to use bus network for passengers.
“We believe it is a very sound proposal and we await the decision of the Quality Contract Board with great interest.
“We realise that the bus companies will find this decision disappointing, but leaders took their decision balancing the wider public interest and concluded that the voluntary arrangements proposed by the bus companies could simply not deliver our ambitions for better bus services. We were also clear that, without action, bus use would continue to decline, and the pressures on public funding would simply become unsustainable.”
The proposal will now be submitted to the national Quality Contract Board convened by the Traffic Commissioner, who will consider whether the proposal is in the public interest. Their decision will then be referred back to NECA for a final decision. If agreed, the aim would be to introduce the QCS by April 2017.