Newcastle North MP gets on board with bus passengers

Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, has joined forces with local transport campaigners against a proposed ban on new public bus companies.

The MP met up with members of the Tyne & Wear Public Transport Users Group (TWPTUG) in Newcastle today (2nd March) to discuss Clause 21 of the Government’s Bus Services Bill, which would ban English local authorities from being able to form their own bus companies.

The proposed legislation – which received its Second Reading in the Commons yesterday – seeks to improve bus services by giving local areas more powers over franchising, three decades after buses were deregulated across the country by the 1985 Transport Act. Since deregulation, bus fares have risen well above inflation and many routes have been cut.

While buses are privatised in most towns and cities across the UK, there remain twelve local authority-owned bus companies – including those run in Edinburgh, Nottingham and Blackpool. And, in 4 of the last 5 years, local authority-run buses have won Bus Operator of the Year at the Bus Awards.

However, Clause 21 of the Bill – which was defeated by a Labour amendment in the House of Lords, but has since been reintroduced by the Government in the Commons – specifically prevents local councils from establishing new municipal bus companies in their area.

Catherine, who has already lobbied Transport Ministers on the issue, said:

‘Improving local bus services would make a massive difference to many of my constituents – making it easier for them to get to work or go about their daily lives, whilst reducing car usage and congestion across the city.

‘For far too many people, even short bus journeys are too expensive and services are simply not regular or reliable enough.

‘Yet, for all their talk of localism, the Government are stopping local authorities from deciding what would work best in their area. This makes no sense whatsoever, not least given the success of publicly-operated bus services elsewhere.’

Catherine McKinnell is also strongly backing amendments to the Bill which would improve the accessibility of bus services for blind and visually impaired people by making the provision of audiovisual information on buses a requirement. The Newcastle North MP has campaigned on the issue for several years after she undertook a ‘blindfolded bus journey’ in her constituency with Guide Dogs.