A PROPOSAL to introduce a regulated bus network across the Tees Valley will help the "isolated" elderly in rural areas, MPs have said.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has pledged to carry out a thorough investigation into whether a proposed London-style bus franchising scheme would benefit the area.

Under bus franchising, the deregulated bus market is suspended and bus operators are only able to provide services under contract to the area’s local transport authority.

This approach is used extensively across Europe and in the capital.

Under the bus franchising system in London, Transport for London specify what bus services are to be provided and then decide the routes, timetables and fares.

The services themselves are operated under contract by private companies through a competitive tendering process.

Mr Houchen said: “People rightly demand that our bus network should be modern, accessible, affordable, and everyone should be able to use it – that’s why we need to look at all options on the table, including bus franchising.

“Our bus companies are doing the best they can in the face of subsidy cuts by local councils, but it would be wrong of us not to look at whether there are other models that would work too.

“This isn’t about putting the buses in public hands, but looking at whether a regulated system like London would work for us too.

“I’m clear that the Tees Valley needs a joined-up transport network, with simple fares and ticketing, that puts the passenger first and guarantees the best value ticket for their journey."

Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, said: “The lack of a bus service in many areas of Redcar & Cleveland, and Teesside, is a huge concern for residents, especially the elderly.

"It can be very isolating for those who cannot just jump in a car to get to the shops or visiting friends and family.

"I urge the Mayor to put the interests of Teesside residents first and not cow tow to pressure from operators.”

Alex Cunningham, Stockton North MP, added: "For too long bus companies determine where they’ll run buses to maximise their profits, which often results in many communities particularly in rural areas left with little, if any, service."