QCS ‘supplemental consultation’ begins in Tyne and Wear
Tyne and Wear transport authority, Nexus, has opened a short period of supplemental consultation as it moves to complete a proposal for the UK’s first bus Quality Contracts Scheme (QCS). Nexus claims the QCS proposal is aimed at halting a long term decline in the number of people using local buses and protecting services in Tyne and Wear from the kind of cuts seen across large parts of the country. However, it has been much ridiculed by operators, notably by the North East Bus Operators Association (NEBOA), which has argued a Voluntary Partnership Agreement would work better than the QCS. NEBOA proposed its alternative approach to Nexus in December 2013. Stagecoach had a detailed review made of Nexus’s proposals by independent economic experts, Oxera. Their report suggested the plans are ‘fundamentally flawed, unaffordable and fail to meet key mandatory Government tests’. It concluded bus operators’ partnership proposals were the better way forward to improve bus services. Talks continue with operators to achieve the best possible Voluntary Partnership Agreement, as a possible alternative.
A Quality Contracts Scheme would use powers provided by the Transport Act 2000 to make the North East Combined Authority responsible for all aspects of almost all bus services in Tyne and Wear for a ten year period, potentially beginning in 2016. Bus services would still be operated by private companies, which would be paid a fee for providing a specified service to the public under contracts of seven to ten years let by Nexus through a competitive process.
A full consultation over the QCS proposal was held between July and November 2013. This supplemental consultation looks at alternative options for a small number of detailed parts of the proposal. It asks consultees whether they believe the QCS would be improved if these options were adopted. The alternative options cover the number of contracts to be let and the addition of a negotiation step in the procurement, some of the conditions under which employees might transfer from one bus company to another, and the creation of a new forum to give a greater voice to passengers. Also considered are a small modification to proposed fare zones, a change to the proposed vehicle standard and a staggered approach to its introduction to improve affordability and allow for a smoother transition. The supplemental consultation period will run from 9 April to 4 June 2014.