'More to do' on bus services in Northumberland, says campaigning councillor pushing for improvements

A Northumberland councillor who has been campaigning for better bus services and cheaper fares is again calling for more investment in public transport.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 6:58 pm
Councillor Kath Nisbet, who is campaigning for better bus services.

In 2019, we reported on Labour’s calls, led by Coun Kath Nisbet, for the Conservative-led county council to do more as bus use declines and fares rise.

At the time, a spokesman for the authority pointed out that while 80% of the county’s bus services are commercial, the remaining 20%, which mainly serve the rural north and west, ‘are funded either in part or fully by county council contributions and illustrate our commitment to providing accessible public transport to communities not served by the commercial network, at a time when some local authorities have removed funding for supported buses entirely’.

Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for environment and local services, added: “We do allocate significant amounts of public money to support bus services in the county and as we look to the future, our climate change action plan will reflect our wish to do more to highlight public transport and bus services in particular.”

At the same time, Labour also highlighted that Arriva, which runs a large proportion of bus services in the county, charged passengers travelling from Seaton Delaval to Newcastle £2.50 more for a day ticket than people travelling from nearby Seaton Sluice to Newcastle, for example.

In the wake of our report, the company announced that it would be cutting the price of some of its one-way tickets between Blyth, Seaton Delaval and Seghill to Newcastle ‘to improve value for money and match other services in the area’, resulting in reductions of up to 80p for a single journey.

This came into effect earlier this month alongside more express buses between Blyth and Newcastle during commuter times and a new service for Northumberland Business Park.

Coun Nisbet, who represents the Croft ward in Blyth, is now in the process of setting up a face-to-face meeting with the bus giant to call for further improvements.

“This is good news for people like me who rely on bus services, but we still have a long way to go in making bus fares more affordable,” she said.

“I’d like to thank Arriva for listening to my concerns and reducing the fare on their X7 service. I would also urge them to review their prices across the board in Northumberland as there is still more that can be done.

“We need more investment in public transport from the Tories on Northumberland County Council and the Tories in Westminster. Only then will we get a better, cheaper and more reliable bus service for everyone in Northumberland.”

At the full council meeting earlier this month, when the authority’s climate action plan received cross-party backing, Coun Sanderson said: “We will have a long look at public transport in the county and see where we might be able to make the use of train or bus more attractive to car users.”

Concerns over declining bus journeys

On a national level, new analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed that local buses are travelling almost 150 million fewer miles than they were 10 years ago and have fallen to their lowest level since the mid-eighties.

According to the latest annual figures, buses in England travelled a distance of 1.18 billion miles in 2018-19 – down from 1.33 billion in 2008-09.

Last year’s figure for buses in Northumberland was 7.8million miles – 417,000 fewer than in 2017-18.

The last time bus travel was lower nationally was in 1986-87. Bus passenger journeys have also dropped by 318 million in the past decade.

The LGA, which represents councils, says an increase in fares – which are up 71 per cent in real terms since 2005 – and a £700million annual funding gap for the concessionary fares scheme are contributing to the decline in services and usage.

Coun David Renard, the LGA’s transport spokesman, said: “Local bus services play an absolutely vital role in connecting communities and are a lifeline to older and vulnerable residents who rely on buses on a daily basis. They are also important in tackling congestion, air quality and climate change.

“Plans for a national bus strategy are an important step. The continuing decline in how far buses are travelling and the falling number of passenger journeys highlight the urgent need for it to include long-term investment in our country’s local bus networks.

“The funding gap faced by councils in providing the concessionary fare scheme is severely impacting their ability to step in and prop up bus routes that are otherwise at risk of ending altogether.

“Councils want to work with the Government to make sure every community in all areas of the country is able to access a local bus service.”