Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bus Revolution Is Put on Hold; New Regime Comes with Strings Attached

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bus Revolution Is Put on Hold; New Regime Comes with Strings Attached

Article excerpt

Byline: By Zoe Hughes Political Editor

BUS services in Tyne and Wear could be dramatically improved under new plans to give local transport chiefs more control over routes - but maybe not for another four years.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander yesterday announced the biggest shake-up of the bus industry in two decades.

It gives councils and passenger transport executives the right to award one bus operator an exclusive contract for an area.

However, in a little-noticed addition, Mr Alexander admitted the changes would not apply in metropolitan areas such as Tyne and Wear until passenger transport bodies themselves had been reformed.

The Journal yesterday revealed the Government was planning to make it easier for councils and PTEs to set up tough quality contracts for services as well award one operator a franchise-style deal in particular areas. But Mr Alexander said planned reform of passenger transport authorities and executives, such as Nexus in Tyne and Wear, had to take place before quality contracts could be introduced - which could take until 2008, and possibly up to 2010.

Despite the delay, transport bosses and MPs called the move a step in the right direction.

Coun David Wood, chairman of Tyne and Wear PTA, said the new policies had to meet two fundamental tests: "Will it get people to choose the bus over the car more often, and will it help those who rely on the bus as their only method of travel?

"What passengers want is a convenient, reliable local bus service. These proposals show ministers recognise this."

Mr Alexander said: "The bus industry will remain privately owned. Private sector strengths in management, innovation and investment will remain absolutely central to the future of the industry. But we need a private sector better harnessed to the needs and aspirations of local communities."

But passenger numbers are declining dramatically outside London - which operates a franchise system - and ministers say a failure to act would lead to a "vicious circle" of deteriorating services. …

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