£804m bus revolution planned for North East

An £804million bid to radically upgrade the North East’s bus services has been unveiled.
Proposals for an overhaul of bus services in the North East include a new bus station for Alnwick.Proposals for an overhaul of bus services in the North East include a new bus station for Alnwick.
Proposals for an overhaul of bus services in the North East include a new bus station for Alnwick.

The revolutionary project promises cheaper fares, more regular and reliable services across the region, more environmentally-friendly fleets, and long-awaited London-style payments that will allow millions of passengers seamless travel across bus, Metro, rail, and ferry.

This new Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) is the latest step towards a new ‘enhanced partnership’ between local councils and bus operators – a formal agreement demanded by the government in order to give the North East access to a £3billion levelling up fund for bus services.

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The bid to the Government includes a £124million ask to prop up existing bus services amid shortfalls caused by the Covid crisis, with bosses saying they hope the “significant upgrades” will see passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023 and then grow by 10% each year after.

The proposals include:

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. It would be available to either pre-purchase as a physical ticket or could be automatically calculated as passengers travel using a contactless bank card, pay as you go smartcard or mobile app; 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 Alnwick, Durham, Bishop Auckland and an additional Newcastle city centre bus station.

Coun Gannon, who chairs the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC), said: “With the right amount of Government funding behind us, our plan would I’m sure be welcome news for passengers.”

He admitted that the vast upgrades come with a “big price tag” but that if government was willing to stump up the cash then local councils would take “bold policy decisions to make bus use an easy and natural choice”, with bus operators willing to “make commercial compromises on a scale that we have never seen before”.

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Martijn Gilbert, chairman of NEbus, the local operator’s association, said that the scheme “sets out the key ingredients for revolutionising the region’s bus network”.

He added: “We hope that Government sees this plan as an opportunity to invest in the true potential of the North East’s buses, helping us to shift travel habits to be more focused around sustainable public transport which will be good news for us all.”

The BSIP is set to be approved at a meeting of the JTC tomorrow (Tuesday).