£1 bus fare plans for Northumberland
Flat fares starting from £5 for adults and just £1 for under-19s could be introduced in a bid to get passengers back on the North East’s buses.
Despite a rise in recent months, travel operators are still struggling to recover after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out swathes of business overnight.
But according to transport bosses in Northumberland, strings attached to Government cash have presented an opportunity for a major overhaul of ticketing and the prospect of driving down costs for customers.
“I think one of the biggest barriers I’ve been lobbied about is a better youth offer,” said Neil Easton, public transport manager at Northumberland County Council.
“The cost of a bus trip to Newcastle from somewhere like south-east Northumberland is prohibitive to a lot of people, so included in the Bus Service Improvement Plan bid is a scheme to see a £1 flat fare imposed for all under-19 journeys in the North East.
“A single from Bedlington to Newcastle for an adult costs £7 – does anyone think that’s reasonable, that that’s affordable?
“It’s absolutely atrocious, so one of the things we’re talking about there is a £5 multi-operator flat fare to go anywhere again in the North East.
“You might spend your whole day on the bus, but it will only cost you £5 a day.”
According to figures for 2018/19, there were 162.4million journeys made on the North East’s bus network, about a third of which were people getting to or from work.
Within Northumberland alone, the number of trips made in 2020/21 fell by 6.5million, compared to the previous year.
The loss of fares has seen bus operators become reliant on state subsidies to make ends meet, including an agreement that local authorities would continue paying out subsidies for concessionary tickets at pre-Covid levels, despite a near total collapse in demand for such services.
Mr Easton added: “There is now no such thing as a commercial bus service operator in the North East, every service at the moment is dependent on [public] funding.
“You may have noticed, that despite only carrying a fraction of the passengers, a lot of empty buses driving past – the reason for that is Northumberland County Council and the Government providing funding to ensure services continue to run at full or close to full service levels.”