Tyne & Wear

Bus fare rises outside London a 'scandal', says council chief

London bus Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Buses outside of London are mostly unregulated, with private companies setting prices

The head of one of England's biggest councils has described continued increases in bus fares outside of London as a "scandal".

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said operators in receipt of public money should be lowering fares.

Go North East, one of the biggest bus companies in northern England, said it had recently reduced some.

The government said its planned £5bn investment in local bus networks would lower fares and improve services.

In England last year, bus passengers made three times the amount of journeys taken by rail commuters.

According to figures published by the Department for Transport (DfT), bus fares outside London have risen by 12.8% over the last five years. Fares in the capital have fallen by 2.3%.

Mr Forbes said rising fares contributed to a reduction in passengers.

"Some of our bus fares here in Tyne and Wear are some of the highest in the UK and it's an absolute scandal that you can travel for an hour on the bus anywhere in London for £1.50," he said.

"I can't think of a single fare that you can pay in Newcastle for £1.50."

Numbers stabilising

Bus journeys have reduced by about 8% in both the capital and across England in the last five years - from 4.67bn in 2013/14 to 4.31bn last year.

However, Go North East said passenger numbers were beginning to stabilise as more commuters sought to travel in an environmentally-friendly way.

Commercial director Stephen King said: "The problem with reducing fares is that buses are very expensive to buy.

"So, if we're going to buy more of them, which is absolutely what we should be doing, then we do need help with funding for that.

"Bus fares in London are cheaper, but they're funded by the government essentially and by Transport for London (TfL)."

Image caption Nick Forbes said the disparity in pricing was a "scandal"

The fare for any single bus journey within central London has been frozen at £1.50 for the last five years.

TfL regulates and subsidises bus fares by about £700m a year.

The vast majority of services outside London are unregulated, with private operators setting ticket prices and timetables.

The government said it wanted to give local authorities the power to regulate in the same way as in London.

Some metropolitan mayors already have such powers, with Manchester mayor Andy Burnham expected to make an announcement next month on whether buses in the city will be taken back under public control.

Analysis

By David Rhodes, BBC Look North political correspondent

Boris Johnson loves buses. So much so that, to relax, he supposedly paints buses on wooden crates, according to an interview he gave to Talk Radio.

What the Prime Minister has done is put the issue of buses back on the political map.

Huge amount of attention is given to the state of the country's rail network but a lot more of us depend on buses on a daily basis.

The prime minister has promised to allow other parts of the country to regulate buses services and cap fares like they do in London.

But introducing such a scheme in Newcastle, Manchester and Bristol would be very expensive, and it's not clear who yet would foot the bill - central government or local councils?

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