North East wins £163m to upgrade bus routes and cut fares

Alnwick bus station had been included in an original £804m bid for Government funding.Alnwick bus station had been included in an original £804m bid for Government funding.
Alnwick bus station had been included in an original £804m bid for Government funding.
The North East has been awarded more than £160m to improve bus journeys and slash fare prices – but it is well short of the £804million local leaders had wanted.

It was revealed by the Department for Transport (DfT) that a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) for the region has won £163.5m of Government backing, a huge investment hailed as “great news” for passengers.

But while the allocation has been largely welcomed and is among the highest in the country, it is dramatically lower than the original £804m proposal the North East had bid for last year.

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That plan featured a massive collection of measures such as new stations and park and ride sites, more services running to rural areas and outside peak times, and the creation of a multi-modal ticket enabling seamless travel across bus, Metro, rail and ferry services.

Decision-makers will now have to choose which projects go ahead and which are shelved.

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon hailed Monday’s announcement as a “great achievement”, but warned that the hugely ambitious £804m ask was a “genuine reflection” of what the North East needs to make bus journeys across the region cheaper, greener, faster, and more reliable.

Cllr Gannon, chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “We are delighted that we have done so well, but it is from a much reduced national pot.

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“I would still make the point that to achieve the government’s declared policy objectives, it would take £804m.”

He added: “It will make a difference, but I think we will still face difficulties in the future without more funding.”

The £804m bid had been made last October after the Government announced £3bn of levelling up money to improve bus services outside London, however it later emerged that only £1.2bn of new cash was in fact on offer.

Tobyn Hughes, managing director of Transport North East, said the money would “allow us to dramatically transform bus services across the North East, greatly improving the bus network for millions of passengers and encouraging more people to make the switch to bus”.

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Newcastle Lib Dem councillor Greg Stone agreed that it was “pleasing” to see the North East secure so much new investment, but raised concerns about how far the original BSIP plan will have to be scaled back.

He added: “I was strongly supportive of the bid, which offered the potential to deliver transformational improvements on fares and upgrading to electric buses.

"I fear it will now be necessary to examine how much of the plan can still go ahead given an inevitable reduction in scale and scope at a time when bus services are already being cut back.”

The original BSIP proposals had included:

A single ticket that would allow unlimited travel across all bus, Metro, and ferry services in Tyne and Wear, County Durham, and Northumberland, plus rail services between Sunderland, Newcastle, the Metrocentre and Blaydon. The multi-modal ticket could be capped at between £4 and £6.80 daily depending how far across the region you travel; Cheaper tickets for under-19s, with a £1.20 fare for single tickets and a £2.50 region-wide multi-modal fare cap; A trial of free bus travel for under-12s during summer 2022; A pledge for all buses in the region to be either zero-emission or the highest emission standard for conventional buses by March 2025, plus a trial of hydrogen-powered buses; All buses to be fitted with charging points and wifi as standard; Upgraded stations and shelters, with more real-time service updates and improved CCTV and lighting; More early morning, evening, and overnight services, and improved access to the most rural areas of County Durham and Northumberland; New “Superbus” corridors giving maximum priority to buses on the busiest routes in and out of city centres and to five new “major” out-of-town Park and Ride sites; New bus stations will be delivered in Durham, Alnwick, Bishop Auckland and an additional Newcastle city centre bus station.