Transport leaders approve region’s Bus Service Improvement Plan
Transport leaders have today (Tuesday 26 October) approved the region’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) at a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee.
The BSIP is new £804 million bid to Government which transport leaders are confident would dramatically transform bus services across the North East and greatly improve the bus network for millions of passengers as well as helping the environment.
Welcoming the approval, a joint statement on behalf of local leaders, states:
“Our region can achieve great things when we work together and we are delighted to unveil our region’s Bus Service Improvement Plan which will be transformative for local people. Local authorities have worked in partnership with local bus operators to produce an ambitious plan for our bus services – an £804 million funding bid which we hope will enable us to deliver transformational change for local people. We want to deliver a truly modern, sustainable public transport system that we can all be proud of.
“Buses are hugely important to our region and our people. For many, the bus is their main mode of transport and it is imperative that we increase use of green, sustainable transport in order to avoid a car-dominated recovery from the pandemic.
“The pandemic has put our public transport network under strain and, as a direct result of Covid-19, passenger levels are below where they should be. The North East needs the major investment set out in the BSIP from Government to underpin a dramatic res-set of our bus network if we are to deliver on our climate change and economic goals.
“We are determined to make it easier for people to use the bus more often when they can and we must lower carbon emissions region-wide. By delivering the plans outlined in the BSIP, we will improve our air quality and encourage more people to travel in a sustainable way.
“We are united in our goal to reform our region’s bus network and make bus travel more attractive, customer friendly, reliable and affordable. To do this, we must be bold and address the balance of our network. Some of our infrastructure and policies will need to pivot to embrace this change and with that will come greater use of public transport.
“We hope the Government sees our BSIP as a wonderful opportunity to invest in the North East.”
Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council,
Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee and Leader of Gateshead Council,
Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council,
Norma Redfearn CBE, Elected Mayor of North Tyneside Council,
Cllr Glen Sanderson, Leader of Northumberland County Council,
Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council,
Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland City Council,
Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Mayor.
Martijn Gilbert, Chair of the local operators association NEbus, said: “Working in partnership with Transport North East and local Councils, the Bus Service Improvement Plan sets out an ambitious set of initiatives to transform the regions’ bus network by better aligning highways matters and bus service delivery to improve service reliability, as well as delivering an improved range of fare and ticket offers, and a number of other initiatives that can make bus services even better and for more people.
“If we are serious about improving air quality, reducing congestion and better connecting our communities as part of rebuilding our regional economy, then buses can provide the solution in many ways. We support the calls of the regions’ Political Leaders for Government to invest in the North East and allow our transport network to show its true potential with the right support, including highways measures.”
The ambitious plan aims to return bus ridership – currently 25% lower than before the pandemic – to pre-Covid levels by the end of the next financial year (March 2023), and to grow by 10% each year thereafter. This would provide numerous benefits to the North East including a major boost to the local economy, reduction in road congestion, and a reduction in air pollution by lower carbon emissions from excess car journeys.
Headline initiatives in the new BSIP include:
- Financial support to maintain the bus network in light of shortfalls caused by Covid-19.
- Region-wide affordable fares for multi-modal travel on all bus, Metro and Ferry services across the North East, as well as on selected rail services.
- Multi-modal fares available both as a ticket purchased before travel begins (from a bus driver, at a Metro ticket machine, online, or through a new app); and as a price “cap” that is automatically calculated and applied when a customer uses a contactless bank card, mobile phone payment app, or Pay As You Go smartcard to pay for travel.
- Great value for money region-wide affordable fares for under 19s.
- A trial of “kids go free” for under 12s on bus services during summer 2022 – matching the offer already in place on Metro.
- Better frequencies and earlier starts/later finishes on many bus routes.
- Improved fast daytime links and a night bus network.
- Investment in better bus punctuality and reliability, with “Superbus corridors” giving the highest possible level of priority to buses on the busiest routes to and from city centres and to new out-of-town Park & Ride sites.
- Increased bus use and modal share with specific targets for young people, rural dwellers, and people travelling to work and education.
- Wider use of demand-responsive transport for rural and isolated communities, with integrated fares for onward connections.
- Simple and intuitive information to make buses easy to understand and use. Improved integration with the Tyne and Wear Metro and other rail services, and audio-visual next-stop announcements on all buses to make travelling easier for everyone, including older and disabled people.
- Eye-catching and high-quality bus stops and shelters throughout the region including in rural areas, with access to real-time departure and fare information as standard.
- A standardised customer offer regardless of operator, with a common customer-facing brand identity and a bus passenger charter to set standards and expectations, and to transparently report on performance.
- A commitment for all buses in the region to be either zero-emission or the highest emission standard for conventional buses, by March 2025.
The North East BSIP is the region’s response to the Government’s National Bus Strategy for England which was published in March 2021.
In order to qualify for future funding, Government has stipulated that all local authorities across the UK are required to submit a BSIP by 31 October. The BSIP creation is a further step towards an Enhanced Partnership – a formal agreement between local authorities and bus operators which must be in place by April 2022.