Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Transport Chief Defends Quality Contract Scheme

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Transport Chief Defends Quality Contract Scheme

Article excerpt

Byline: Rachel Wearmouth Reporter

ANORTH East transport chief has defended councils' drive to take back control of buses in Tyne and Wear - but admitted the risks keep him awake at night.

The North East Combined Authority (NECA) wants power to set fares and timetables and integrate tickets across the region's ferries, buses and Metro.

At the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) Board hearing at Sunderland's Stadium of Light NECA's Tobyn Hughes lifted the lid on months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the bus companies, who oppose the idea.

The firms say the plan is a huge gamble that could lead to higher fares and tax bills, and worse services, but had been in discussions over a possible voluntary partnership arrangement (VPA), which Mr Hughes said was eventually ruled out because it allowed the companies to veto decisions.

He said: "In order to enter into a partnership agreement of the nature that the NECA was seeking - one that gave it certainty over how the network would evolve in future, one that gave it confidence that local accessibility through buses would be maintained, despite public funding being taken out of the bus network - required that there was a balance-ofpower shift, that took it away from wholly commercial decisions taken by bus companies and put it into a mutually agreed position, where the public authorities and bus companies themselves would jointly, through a binding process, reach a decision."

"We tried to guide the North East Bus Operators' Association very clearly in how we think the policy objectives could be best met. Where sometimes they said things were impossible to achieve because of competition law concerns, we explored them as best we could.

"Throughout that process we really tried to get a workable VPA that would secure the bus strategy objectives in a way that meant that the Quality Contracts Scheme wasn't the best way forward."

Mr Hughes said he believed, however, that the QCS would support NECA's aim to grow the local economy following any devolution deal. …

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