Riding the public transport roller-coaster

North East public transport users must feel they are on a roller-coaster rather than a bus or a train as their political leaders continue to lead them on a journey from the long-term ambitions of multi-billion-pound plans to the immediate reality of cuts to services and emergency rescues.

This week has already seen approval of a £3.4bn Rail and Metro Strategy, a warning of cuts to Metro services, possibly even including station closures, and a rescue package for buses south of the Tyne. And its only Wednesday.

The £4.3m publicly-funded rescue package to save bus services in Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland from cuts planned by the commercial operator Go North East from July 24 in response to falling passenger numbers since the pandemic, was announced by Nexus, the Tyne & Wear passenger transport executive, on Monday.

The Rail and Metro Strategy, which would take until 2035 to complete – as reported here on June 11 – went before the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) yesterday, on the same day that the  the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed the threat to existing Metro services and stations in Chronicle Live.

These lurches between high hopes and gloomy reality are nothing new for the JTC and those – if there still are any – who put their faith in it, as this website has pointed out before.

The Rail and Metro Strategy is the JTC’s third big plan in 15 months following the £6.8bn North East Transport Plan and the £804m Bus Service Improvement Plan – for which it did surprisingly well to get £163.5m, compared with  Liverpool’s £12m and Sheffield’s zilch.

Meanwhile, this week’s bus rescue package is the second in the North East in three months after Nexus announced a similar £4.5m package for services in Newcastle and North Tyneside on March 23.

COMMENT

No one’s got a grip on the North East’s public transport and it’s lurching from disappointed hopes at best to near-crisis at worst.

The reason is clear to see. Responsibility is split between ministers in Whitehall who ultimately control the purse strings and councillors in the region’s town halls trying to combine the workaday political oversight of the transport network’s management with the more glamorous task of drawing new rail lines on maps.

The solution is also clear. If the North East had a proper devolution deal it would be able to take greater control of its own transport budget. It would still almost certainly not have as much as it wanted, though it would at least get access to the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement worth up to about £600m. Just as important, it would have more power to plan future budgets and match its ambitions to realistic resource expectations. Passengers would be able to step off the roller-coaster and have a clear idea of their direction of travel..