Transport bosses in County Durham have been warned “public confidence in bus services is at an all-time low” despite a multi-million investment plan to improve connectivity. 

Passengers have been told the £136million government funding will be used to create new services, increase frequencies, and allow cheap fares to continue. 

But the impact of timetable changes and cost-cutting measures by operators in the region continues to affect services and public trust. 

Bus passenger levels in County Durham are around 80 per cent on pre-pandemic levels, as operators struggle to retain local services and staff. 

Over 90 per cent of local bus services used to operate without financial support, but the impact of the pandemic on the bus network in County Durham has been so severe that patronage and fare income used to support bus services has also been hit. 

In Sedgefield, cuts to bus routes have significantly restricted connectivity around the region. Cllr Chris Lines said: “Residents who spoke with me were visibly distressed about the current state of play and very worried about the future status of bus services.”

The independent councillor said operators scrapping services is contrary to the ambitions of connected communities. “Confidence in bus services is at an all-time low,” cllr Lines added. 

However, local authority transport bosses say it could be time to ‘talk our buses up’ thanks to a multi-million funding boost.  

A report presented to councillors at a meeting discussing regional transport last week noted how bus services in the North East have benefited from £136million from the government as part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP). The new funding will be used to create new services, increase the frequencies, extend operating hours, and reduce daily fees when using bus services. 

Fares remain at £2 per ticket for a one-way journey and £1 for children. There is also a £4 daily cap for County Durham residents.

The newly-formed North East Combined Authority has also pledged to improve services. 

Meanwhile, the Joint Administration in charge of Durham County Council said it has continually campaigned for improvements to bus services.

The group of Liberal Democrat, Conservative, and independent councillors said it has invested millions to create new services and to keep others running where commercial operators have decided they were no longer viable; to increase the frequency of services and extend their operating hours; and to reduce the price of travel.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “Though bus services across the county are primarily provided by private operators, we are fully committed to investing in transport to help every resident of County Durham with their journey, wherever they live.

Recommended reading: 

Don't miss out on the latest news and stories. Subscribe to The Northern Echo now for less than £5 a month.

“Durham County Council invests in significant infrastructure projects that are designed to enhance connectivity for all our residents. These include a new bus station for Durham City with another to follow at Bishop Auckland, the expansion of the Sniperley Park and Ride site, several schemes to enhance our road network, and significant strides to improve the county’s walking and cycling network.”

But one local councillor claims those projects won’t benefit residents in Trimdon and Thornley, another community impacted by cuts.

Cllr Jake Miller, Labour member for the area, said: “This only benefits the residents of the City of Durham, and not those of the wider county. [It] does nothing for the people of Trimdon and Thornley division, and the wider county, who are trying to catch a bus every morning, for it not to show up. It does nothing for those who are at risk of losing employment because buses are constantly late.”