South Tyneside Council talks on voluntary partnership
Pronouncements from some senior local politicians suggest that Nexus, (the Tyne & Wear Passenger Transport Executive) intends to press on with plans for quality contracts, despite 87% customer satisfaction levels that raise questions over whether there is any justification for the draconian proposals that would transfer risk to the local authorities. Against this background, Stagecoach has welcomed confirmation by South Tyneside Council that it will meet with bus operators (Stagecoach and Go-Ahead) on 20 August to discuss agreeing an extension of current partnership arrangements in advance of a unified voluntary bus partnership. South Tyneside Council has had separate Voluntary Bus Partnership Agreements with Stagecoach and Go Ahead covering South Shields since summer 2010. The agreements cover the scope of the bus network, quality standards, bus stop and bus priority enhancements, marketing, passenger information and infrastructure.
Stagecoach says that, ‘Top of the agenda will be discussions on the extension of current bus partnership arrangements in South Shields in advance of a “unified voluntary partnership”.’
Phil Medlicott, MD of Stagecoach North East, said: ‘We welcome this renewed support for partnership working by South Tyneside Council. These talks bring the opportunity to deliver even better bus services to people in South Shields more quickly and at lower cost to local taxpayers than an expensive, wasteful and time-consuming bus contracting system. We hope other authorities represented on the Tyne and Wear ITA will opt for this constructive partnership approach. Partnerships mean bus improvements can be delivered in months rather than years. Every day the ITA delays accepting bus operators’ proposals will mean a longer wait for passengers to see further improvements. It will also mean more wasted money on consultants and bureaucracy which should be invested right now in improving bus services.’
Stagecoach points out that bus partnerships have already been endorsed by the independent, cross-party Transport Select Committee and in a detailed Competition Commission review of the local bus sector. In addition, bus operators have already promised a range of further passenger benefits under a voluntary partnership agreement in Tyne and Wear. In contrast, the proposals for a bus contracting scheme for the region, which would take at least two years to implement, involve set-up costs alone of £2.5 million and pass financial risks to local taxpayers.
A Tyne & Wear ITA (TWITA) bus strategy meeting for ITA members is scheduled for Friday 26 July at Newcastle Civic Centre to consider options on whether to progress a voluntary partnership agreement with bus operators for the Tyne and Wear region or to launch consultation on a bus contracting scheme.
TWITA is also under attack locally over proposals to raise charges for using the Tyne Tunnel that are considerably in excess of inflation.