Nexus steps in as COVID bus cash runs out

North East transport body Nexus has warned that some bus services in Newcastle and North Tyneside will be lost next month, despite a £4.5m rescue package.

Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, said it was responding to ‘huge cuts’ by Arriva, Go North East and Stagecoach as their COVID relief funding ends.

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It said that with cuts to services in March potentially leaving some communities without bus services, the £4.5m package it drew up in response will replace services that would otherwise be lost and re-cast routes it already provides.

Nexus said this will mitigate the worst effects of the firms’ cuts but warned that the scale of the cuts means that it is unable to replace every route under threat.

Customer services director Huw Lewis described the cuts being made by commercial companies as ‘the biggest single change to local bus services for 35 years’.

Carl Johnson, deputy mayor at North Tyneside Council and chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee Tyne and Wear subcommittee, said: ‘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 recognise this and continue to provide financial support to bus companies until passenger numbers are closer to pre-pandemic levels.’

Nexus pointed out that commercial firms operate 90% of bus routes in Tyne and Wear and decide what services to run, but that it has powers to provide additional services, using funding from local authorities, where there are gaps in services that would leave people without access to public transport.

It said the three firms, which will see the Government’s Bus Recovery Grant withdrawn at the end of March, recently informed it of plans to reduce services in the Newcastle and North Tyneside areas to levels they consider financially sustainable. Passenger numbers currently stand at around 75% of pre-Covid levels.

The firms have agreed to bring in changes to their services on 27 March, the same date that new Nexus contracts will take effect.

Nexus said bus firms are expected to make further changes in the region later in the spring, including Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside, and has pledged a further rescue package if there are significant cuts.

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