Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has published more details surrounding a proposed ‘Uber-style’ bus network covering rural areas in the region.
Currently, local people living in the more remote parts of Darlington, East Cleveland and West Hartlepool receive little to no bus coverage. Under plans drawn up by the Mayor, a new on-demand bus service will be piloted in these areas to improve public transport.
The new service will allow passengers to book a journey in advance on either a smartphone app, via a website or over the telephone. The system will then match passengers travelling in the same direction and schedule vehicles in real-time to find the optimal route for their trip.
A number of mini-busses will be deployed in these pilot areas, but unlike a traditional bus service there will be no fixed timetable. Instead, routes are determined by where passengers want to go within a predefined area.
The technology will also help provide more public transport options for passengers going to and from Teesside Airport.
On-demand bus services have been introduced in locations across the country, including Liverpool, Sittingbourne in Kent, parts of Shropshire and Leicester and have proved hugely popular.
Subject to a procurement process, the service will be available to residents by the end of 2019 and will operate for a minimum of three years. If the pilot is a success, Mayor Houchen has promised to extend the service into other across the Tees Valley.
Commenting Mayor Ben Houchen said: “Routes, fares and timetables are set by private bus companies so understandably they tend to favour areas that make them money.
“The problem here is that rural areas, where there’s less demand, get cut off and residents have to endure poor connectivity.
“The old way of doing things has clearly failed, so I have decided to step in and try something new.
“An on-demand ‘Uber-style’ bus network covering remote areas powered by technology is the best way to address these issues in the short term, so I am making some funding available to make it a reality in the Tees Valley.
“This pilot is just a first step and if it works we will roll it out elsewhere.
“I don’t have the power to nationalise buses, but we can and will step in to ensure people in more remote areas finally get access to good quality, frequent public transport.”
The proposal is set to be voted on next Friday (26 July) at the Tees Valley Combined Authority Cabinet meeting.
The Cabinet will also consider a plan to establish an ‘Enhanced Partnership’ scheme with local bus operators to improve journeys in other areas of the Tees Valley.
Using powers in the 2017 Bus Services Act, areas with Metro Mayors can reach special agreements with bus companies who will then be required to comply with standards set by the Mayor. This could include setting minimum service frequency, maximum fares, and a requirement to improve the condition of buses.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has reaffirmed that an alternative London-style bus franchising system is on the table, but subject to the model being successfully implemented in another Mayoral Combined Authority area – such as Greater Manchester.