Still a long way to go on the buses

IT was announced this week that Stagecoach are going to restore the number 1 bus service on a Sunday and the number 7 on sunday evenings and weekday evenings on a trial basis.

This is great news for the communities that those routes serve but we are still lacking a number of services across the town and some communities are still isolated at certain times of the week.

The council unanimously agreed to withdraw the subsidies it was paying to the bus companies as part of the budget savings a year and a half ago.

This resulted in a saving to the council of in excess of £400,000 every year but it meant the the bus companies then withdrew the bus services that the Council were subsidising.

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In other words, if the weren’t making a profit, they were axed. Comments were made at the time about the hundreds of millions of pounds of profit the likes of Stagecoach were making and perhaps some of that should be used to fund some of the less profitable routes.

The council has kept up the dialogue with the bus companies and, along with some public groups, kept the pressure on the firms to think again about withdrawing their services.

This week’s news is a step in the right direction but comes with a very clear warning from the operators that people must use it or lose it.

Judging by the level of response the council has had from the public since the withdrawal of some services, there should easily be enough patronage to make the routes sustainable so let’s hope that the numbers of passengers match the desire.

Of course, there is still a long way to go and we will continue to lobby the operators for better services to Seaton, evenings for the number 6, services to the villages and others.

There has been a good scheme set up to help people in some of the outlying villages get access to a bus service and I hope it will be sustainable in the longer term.

The real solution, however, would be for the Government to re-regulate the delivery of bus services somewhat at least to allow councils to set up their own services again so we can compete against the private sector and more importantly, cover some of the areas where we are being let down by the private operators.

This Government spouts on a lot about localism. What better example could there be if they allow Councils to deliver local bus services once again?

With the Tees Valley expected to be announced as a city region pretty soon and with that may well come the responsibility for strategic transport across the area, the timing would be perfect for our new Secretary of State for Transport to announce re-regulating bus services at the same time.

Perhaps getting two Government departments to co-ordinate with each other with the same shared goal is a little bit too much to ask?