Big changes to bus services in Newcastle and North Tyneside will come into effect on Sunday, 27 March, when a £4.5m Nexus rescue package will stave off the worst effects of cuts made by commercial bus companies as their covid-relief funding ends.
The cuts to routes and services by Go North East and Stagecoach would have left some communities without bus services, and cut links to shops and hospitals, business parks, schools and colleges.
But public transport body Nexus is putting in place a £4.5m package using funding from local authorities to replace commercial services which would otherwise be lost in Newcastle and North Tyneside, or re-cast existing publicly-funded route.
People who are affected by the changes, some the biggest for more than 35 years, can get all of the latest on the route changes, the new timetables and new route information at www.nexus.org.uk/bus/27march2022
Nexus has been working with local communities in North Tyneside and Newcastle to explain the impact of the changes, and it has already held 12 community drop-in sessions across the two affected areas to inform people about what is changing.
Customer Services Director, Huw Lewis, said: “This Sunday marks the biggest single change to local bus services in 35 in years, due to cuts to route and services by bus companies who have seen their covid funding come to an end.
“Our £4.5m rescue package will ensure that as many people as possible still have a local bus they can catch to get to shops, the GP surgery and other essential services.
“We have linked the new publicly-funded services we are creating and taken on with the high-frequency bus routes commercial companies continue to operate. We have worked in partnership with the bus companies who have also revised their changes in places to better maintain local connections.
“The scale of the cuts means we are not able to provide a like-for-like replacement to every bus route that is being cut, but we can seek to keep local people connected. We are working with communities across Newcastle and North Tyneside to ensure that people know what is changing and what bus services are best for them.”
Councillor Carl Johnson, Deputy Mayor at North Tyneside Council and Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee Tyne and Wear subcommittee, said: “Buses play a vital role in communities across the North East, they help residents reach their jobs, elderly people connect with family and younger people socialise and reach educational services.
“I know how essential these services are to communities in my own ward and across North Tyneside and that is why we, along with other local authorities across Tyne and Wear, have stepped up to provide extra funding to Nexus so they can pull this rescue package together.
“However, even this cash injection will not be enough to replace all routes like-for-like, meaning people may have to walk further to find a bus, there will be less direct links to city centres and key employment sites and less frequent services across many routes.
“The Government must confirm what funding is available and continue to provide financial support to bus companies until passenger numbers are closer to pre-pandemic levels. Across the North East we have seen a 75% of passengers return to services, underlining just how critical these buses are to our communities.”
Commercial bus companies operate 90% of bus routes in Tyne and Wear and decide where and how often these run.
Nexus has powers to provide additional services, using funding from local authorities, where there are gaps in these commercial services which would otherwise leave people without access to public transport.
Bus companies are seeing the Government’s Bus Recovery Grant withdrawn at the end of March 2022, while passenger numbers are yet to recover from the pandemic, and currently stand at around 75% of pre-covid levels.
Nexus uses a common criteria to assess where it will step-in to provide a publicly-funded bus built on the following priorities, which reflect consultation it has carried out with local people:
• A bus or Metro service within 400 metres of homes.
• Public transport at least hourly to essential shops, local services and local employment sites.
• A local service to a hub (such as a town centre or interchange) from which people can catch frequent bus or Metro services to a wider range of destinations.
• Reducing the time it takes to reach major employment sites and hospitals as far as possible, including changes.
Nexus and bus companies are working on information campaigns to make sure local people can find out what is changing, including Nexus replacing thousands of bus stop timetables.