Bus services across the North East have significantly declined over the past 14 years according to a report.

Figures published by Friends of the Earth (FOE) show that bus service across the region has notably decreased – with trips per hour seeing a fall of 135 trips per hour (50.4%).

Their report also found that the transport authorities for the North East, North of Tyne, and Tees Valley all saw decreases which saw their trips per half over the same period – with decreases of 188 (54.5%), 186 (54.2%), and 103 (50.9%).

Graham Vidler, CEO of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), said there are two main reasons for the decline in bus provision.

He said: “With the exception of an increase in the late 1980s/early 1990s, bus mileage has been in decline since at least the 1960s, reflecting major changes in British society in particular the growth in car ownership.

“In more recent years the decline in mileage has come in two main phases.

“Between 2010 and 2020, local authorities reduced their funding for bus services by 58% in real terms and as a result the mileage they supported halved.

“Since 2020 operators everywhere, including in London, have reduced services in reaction to changing travel patterns, in particular the decline of five days a week commuting and a sustained fall of around one-third in the number of journeys made by holders of concessionary passes.”

Figures published by FOE trips per hour have fallen in Darlington (35.9%), Hartlepool (60.2%), Redcar and Cleveland (39.6%), Stockton (60.9%), County Durham (54.5%), Newcastle (50%), North Tyneside(46.5%), South Tyneside (27.8%), and Sunderland (48.3%).

A TVCA spokesperson said their bus coverage levels across the Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool areas have now risen above pre-covid levels.

They said they published their Bus Service Improvement Plan in October 2021 and working to ensure bus operators offer “better services, simpler fares and clearer information for passengers.”

They said: "Through our work since 2017 Bus coverage across Teesside, Darlington, and Hartlepool has now improved above pre covid levels with 92% of properties being covered by a bus service. Coverage then increases 100% when including the Tees Flex on-demand bus service which has been supported by the TVCA.

"We've worked hard with operators to protect the network in light of covid and coverage now is better than it was before the pandemic - bucking the national trend."

Peter Gibson, MP for Darlington, said: “The figures show that whilst bus journeys across the region have fallen over the period, usage in Darlington has fallen much less indicating, as I know from my constituency caseload, that as a community we are very reliant on public transport and that’s why the reliability of the service we have is so important to the town’s residents.”

Mary Kelly Foy, MP for Durham City, said tackling the decline of bus provision across the region is “vital” to the community.

She said: "The decline of bus services in County Durham is a huge issue for my constituents. I regularly hear from residents in areas such as Waterhouses, Quarrington Hill, Esh Winning and Newton Hall who are at risk of being cut off due to the decrease in, or unreliability of the services.

“Statistics from Transport North East show total bus vehicle kilometres in the county have declined from 21.86 million km in 2010 to 15.99 million km in 2023 - so is it any wonder that my constituents are fed up?

“It is vital that more is done to link our communities together with better bus services. That is why I am proud to support Labour's promise to allow every community across the country to take back control of local bus services which could create and save up to 1,300 vital bus routes and allow 250 million more passenger journeys per year - compared to today’s failed system."


Mark Jackson, Durham County Council’s head of transport and contract services, said: “Use of bus services is largely a question for private operators which run the majority of them but we do take action wherever we can to make it easier for all residents of County Durham to use buses, whether to get to work, shops, health appointments or leisure sites.

“We have spent more than £10m on a new bus station in Durham City which saw approximately 360,000 journeys in its first month, and are similarly investing in a new station at Bishop Auckland.

“We have also allocated up to £2.65m on top of existing bus service budgets to ensure key routes which people rely on can continue to operate, where private operators decide they are no longer viable.

“In addition, we work as part of the North East Joint Transport Committee to offer a variety of cut prices and fares, to encourage more people to travel by bus, including a £ 4-day ticket offering unlimited travel anywhere in County Durham.”

Commercial Director at Stagecoach, David Parker said their services have been affected since 2008 due to both “economic fluctuations” and the global pandemic.

He said@: “At Stagecoach North East we are constantly adapting our services to address the changing demands of our communities.

“The mileage of our services has reduced by 18% since 2008 due to changes in travel patterns and economic fluctuations, as well as the global pandemic.

“Our priority is to ensure that we provide a reliable and sustainable service for our customers.

“We are actively exploring avenues to enhance service provision, optimise route efficiency, and address the evolving needs of our passengers, in collaboration with our Local Authority partners.”

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: "The impact of the pandemic on bus services across the country has been profound and undeniable.

"That is exactly why, since March 2020, the Government has allocated over £2 billion in emergency and recovery grants to lessen the pandemic's effects on the bus industry.

"It is of course a simple truth that operators will struggle to maintain an underused route. 

"Understanding these challenges, I have worked with operators to maintain key routes in my constituency, such as the 29 in Marton, and to ensure the East Cleveland bus service links up Skinningrove, Skelton and Loftus.    

"Furthermore, we have introduced the £2 fare cap to encourage the use of these routes and, with the recognition of persistent challenges, the Bus Recovery Grant has been extended to 30 June 2023, with funding up to £80 million. 

"This extension is crucial to support the ongoing adaptation of bus services to the changing travel habits post-pandemic."

Stockton North MP Andy McDonald said the fall in bus service represents a failure in government, and backed TVCA mayoral candidate Chris McEwan to tackle the issue.

He said: "After fourteen years of Conservative failure, our local bus services have been driven into the ground. The current Tory Tees Mayor has had the opportunity to act on this for 7 years and has failed to do so.  He has simply stood by and allowed the system to collapse as the bus companies only concentrated on services where they could make money.

"Labour will call time on the broken bus system that is holding far too many people in our community back from opportunities.  It is a sad fact that it is easier these days to get a flight to Europe than a bus home to Stillington.   We need to take back control, determine the required services based on the needs of the community and then let the transport companies bid to run them.

"Labour’s Chris McEwan’s plan for the Tees Valley will do just that and support local leaders to deliver better buses, faster."

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: "It's no secret that bus services nationally took a huge hit as a direct result of the pandemic.

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"The figures up to 2023 clearly reflect that. And this isn't news to the Government.

"It's precisely why the Government made more than £2 billion available through emergency and recovery grants since March 2020 - to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the bus sector. 

"And recognising the ongoing knock-on challenges affecting the sector, the Bus Recovery Grant was extended until 30 June 2023 at a cost of up to £80 million, entirely to ensure continued support as services adjust to new travel patterns following on from the COVID-19 pandemic."