OUTRAGED villagers have launched a petition against a change in bus operator after branding its previous service as ‘dreadful’.
Shilbottle residents and the parish council are up in arms about Arriva taking over the village’s 472 service, which has been run by Travelsure for the last 12 months.
And they say that no warning was given and no consultation was made with the village prior to the change.
The service, which also covers Alnwick town centre, was previously run by Arriva, but when it withdrew, Travelsure, based in Seahouses, took over the contract for a year. However, a tender was put out and Arriva has won back the service.
Elisabeth Haddow, resident, business owner and parish councillor, said: “We had a dreadful service with Arriva previously. When Travelsure took over, they were superb. They helped people and the drivers were wonderful.
“But that is being taken away. When Arriva had it before sometimes they would stop, sometimes they wouldn’t.”
Now a petition has been started to try to stop the change and within the first two hours of it being launched on Monday, 100 signatures had been added.
Bob Wade, a parish councillor and the parish’s representative for travel issues, said that his main concern was with Northumberland County Council.
“They asked for each parish to have a representative to discuss travel issues and consult but they have not mentioned anything,” he said. “Travelsure have done a wonderful job. The buses are kept clean and tidy. Why should the service be given back to Arriva when they didn’t want the contract originally?”
Chairman of the council Tommy Scott also endorsed the complaints.
Mrs Haddow added: “We’ve started the petition because we are not just going to take what the county gives us. They are doing nothing for the rural areas, they are not consulting and they are expecting us to take on more and more but they are keeping the council tax.”
Karen Patterson, joint-owner of Travelsure, said: “I think the way the procurement system works now does exclude smaller companies.
“We have operated the service for nearly a year and we have built it up to be a successful, appreciated and reliable bus route.
“We feel now that our reward is that the previous operator, who withdrew from that route, has been given the contract back at a higher price than we quoted. We are really upset about that.
“The difference is that we are a local company and we are on the doorstep. But because we are small and they are big, if
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they want the work they will get it regardless of what we say, that’s the way we feel.
“We certainly wanted it and we’re totally gutted about not getting it. We tried our hardest but it wasn’t successful.
“We would like to thank the people of Alnwick, Shilbottle and Amble for their support over the last year, we certainly appreciate it.”
Alnwick town and county councillor Gordon Castle said that no consultation is needed.
“It is part of the European procurement contract,” he said. “Unfortunately there is a strict criteria and the county council applies the rules with absolute transparency.
“Personally, I think a small firm like Travelsure will find it very difficult to compete.
“As elected members we can only ensure that the process is absolutely fair. We cannot get involved directly.”
Nigel Featham, managing director for Arriva North East, said: “We are looking forward to operating this service on behalf of Northumberland County Council and we would like to reassure passengers that we always strive to provide the best possible service for our customers.
“The vehicles are modern, low floor and buggy-friendly, which offers customers a comfortable, relaxed journey experience. We understand the importance of ensuring the service is both reliable and punctual and we are confident that it will meet with passengers’ high expectations.”
A Northumberland County Council spokesperson said: “The council has awarded the long-term tender for the 472 bus service to Arriva, to begin on April 1 this year. The tender is awarded under EU procurement rules and takes into account the quality of the service the tenderer is offering, as well as the price. The tenderer also has to answer a number of questions relating to financial wellbeing and health and safety issues, customer service and the quality and age of the buses.
“These questions represent 55 per cent of the overall mark. The other 45 per cent is based on the price. In this case, Arriva was the successful bidder and won the contract to operate the 472 service, supported by funding from the council for a period of five years maximum. This method is deemed to offer the best outcome for passengers and the council.
“The council’s Integrated Transport Unit will monitor the operator for compliance with our terms and conditions and can take appropriate action, including withdrawal of the contract if the service does not meet our requirements.”