County Durham politicians have clashed over bus reliability and connectivity after a scheme which caps single fares at £2 was extended.

The government will continue to charge £2 for single tickets in England until October 31 thanks to a £200 million funding boost, transport minister and North West Durham MP Richard Holden said. The Conservative MP told the House of Commons it is “part of the largest Government investment in bus services for a generation”, and will keep travel affordable. 

“After this we will continue to support bus passengers and the cost of living, but will replace the £2 with a £2.50 fare cap until 31 November 2024, when the Government will then review the effectiveness of future bus fares,” he added. “Since the £2 cap was introduced it has saved passengers millions of pounds, boosted businesses and put bums on bus seats right across the country.”

But Durham City Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy said the fare cap isn’t much use if buses don’t turn up. She added: “The minister even stated on his social media this week that people in County Durham need access to a car or a van to get around. Does he believe that he is improving bus service reliability if providers are slashing routes and services?”

In response, Holden said the government’s wider investment in bus services will improve local services in the future. “This is about protecting local services,” he said. “When she looks at the monies going into Go North East and Arriva North East over the next few weeks, she will see how much they are getting and how that should benefit local users across the great county of Durham.”

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In another scheme recently announced, bus journeys in the region now cost just £1 for people aged 21 and under - but the offer only applies in a select number of local authorities, including County Durham. It means passengers in Darlington and the wider Tees Valley area must continue to pay the current rates, as there are currently no plans to replicate the scheme. 

The Northern Echo: The 'Get Round For A Pound' scheme was unveiled to great fanfare earlier in MayThe 'Get Round For A Pound' scheme was unveiled to great fanfare earlier in May (Image: Transport for the North East)

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell praised the new fare but warned that communities could become isolated due to insufficient bus connectivity, and called for better solutions to let people travel without disruption. He said: “Bus access is fundamental for many of my constituents across a large rural area. We have an issue with service levels. A survey has just gone out in Trimdon that suggests that accessibility is a much bigger issue than cost.”

Mr Holden said the £163million recently pledged for the North East will improve services. “I am looking forward to working with him to see how we can ensure that those delisted rural former pit villages really get the services that they need so that opportunity is spread across our beautiful constituencies,” he added.