Tyne and Wear QC scheme moves forward

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Bus operators in the area are being urged by the ITA to give proper consideration to a partnership alternative. Steve Hodgson
Bus operators in the area are being urged by the ITA to give proper consideration to a partnership alternative. Steve Hodgson

Consultation runs until November 5, although ITA will consider improved Quality Partnership offer from NEBOA

The Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) has agreed to move forward with plans to implement a Quality Contract scheme (QC).

Key aims of a proposal now opening to consultation include capping future fare rises, making travel cheaper for young people & students, introducing ‘simple fares’ and multi-operator smart ticketing and growing services.

The ITA would fund improvements by taking control of fare revenue from operators and re-investing a greater proportion of the profit into Tyne and Wear in local services. The ITA has asked Nexus to manage a consultation on the QC proposal which will run from July 30 to November 5, 2013 and allow it to be developed further based on responses from bus operators, local authorities, trade unions, passenger groups and other stakeholders. It is also inviting operators to develop a revised partnership offer as an alternative.

Cllr David Wood, Chairman of the ITA, said: “This is an important step by the ITA which has the potential to transform local bus. To provide this level of service in today’s deregulated market could cost the taxpayer at least £70m more than if a QC is introduced, we estimate.

“If we don’t take action now to re-invest more of the profit, widespread cuts are inevitable from 2015, hitting families, staff and the vulnerable hardest.

“Having looked at the options in some detail, the ITA is clear the QC proposal as it now stands represents a better opportunity to achieve our aims than the alternative voluntary partnership so far offered by bus companies.

“We’ve decided to enter into a 14-week period of consultation, after which the ITA will look at the proposal again and decide on next steps. At this point in time I want to make clear to bus companies the door remains open if they wish to present a revised partnership proposal.”

Bernard Garner, Director General of Nexus, said: “This is a proposal through which the local bus market in Tyne & Wear would be both secured for the future and improved to deliver services in a way familiar to people in London and many European cities.

“The detailed proposal shows how we believe we can make bus services better through a single publicly-accountable body planning and managing routes, setting and collecting all fares, and re-investing a greater proportion of the profit generated.

“This offers a way to maintain and improve bus services while providing significant savings for taxpayers. Local people will have a greater say in reviewing performance and suggesting changes to routes in their communities, improving public accountability.

“The likely alternative is very unappealing – because of the reduction in public spending Nexus cannot afford to provide the range of services it now delivers using funds from local councils provided through the ITA levy. To prevent a budget deficit from 2015 onwards, unless we act now, we will be forced to withdraw a whole range of vital public transport services.”

The ITA heard the partnership proposal from the North East Bus Operators Association (NEBOA) presented to the meeting offered savings of £360,000 a year from commercial firm taking over loss-making routes funded by Nexus, new multi-operator tickets, including cheaper fares for 16-18-year-olds, a commitment to maintain existing commercial services, an ITA veto on changes, and increased marketing.

The ITA noted the proposal and agreed it would be ready to consider a revised and improved partnership proposal if NEBOA wished to present one.

In response, NEBOA has urged the ITA to give ‘proper consideration’ to the partnership alternative, which would see benefits for passengers from as early as spring next year – almost two years earlier than a QC.

Its statement read: “Partnership working offers terrific benefits for bus users and local authorities without the tremendous risks posed by a contracts scheme. NEBOA believes a QC scheme will inevitably lead to service cuts as council budgets are squeezed.

“The partnership offering already contains savings for Nexus and for passengers amounting to more than £2m. Our proposal produces a stable network with changes and improvements being presented to Local Partnership Boards.”

Consultation deatils & documents will be available on the Nexus website from July 30 at www.nexus.org.uk/