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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Tynedale: Bus bosses pledge to improve 685 fleet

PLEDGES have been made to improve the fleet of buses operating on the troubled 685 route between Newcastle and Carlisle.

Responding to a petition calling for both Arriva and Stagecoach – which jointly run the service – to ‘bring the service up to a reasonable standard’, Stagecoach promised to provide new buses on the route, complete with seatbelts.

Arriva has also promised to make changes to its buses, replacing them with newly refurbished buses without the slippery leather seating that has proved unpopular.

A 287-signature petition listing concerns surrounding the service was received at January’s Northumberland County Council west area committee meeting.

As a result, managing director of Arriva for the North East, Nick Knox, and managing director at Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire, Nigel Winters, attended the meeting of the west area committee on Tuesday.

Mr Knox explained: “At the end of 2012 we (Arriva) replaced the buses with some slightly younger, but still aged, vehicles.

“We had numerous complaints, so we took the decision to replace them with inter-urban buses.

“Putting the newer buses in has completely transformed its reliability.

“Our plans are that, from late summer, we will be replacing those vehicles with leather seats, with fabric seating. We’re looking at the options in terms of handrails and whether we can fit seatbelts in any of the forward or side-facing seats.”

Coun. Terry Robson questioned why Stagecoach was providing the 685 route with brand new buses and Arriva was not.

Mr Knox answered: “I attend meetings like this all across from Berwick in the North to Scarborough in the South and there are a number of competing needs.

“You can’t please all the people all the time; we can only do our best for them all the time.”

Coun. Alan Sharp said: “I was horrified as councillor for Gilsland and Greenhead when they had two buses each day taken away.

“I’m very unhappy that you’re trying to say that you’re developing the service when it’s been a real issue to people living and working in that area.”

In response, Mr Knox said that is was sometimes necessary to make ‘regrettable decisions’.

But he insisted they were made in ‘the interests of the long term viability of the service.’

Mr Knox also stated that he was not in a position to speculate on the future of the 685 route, but said that Arriva was looking to ‘develop the service.’

Nigel Winters of Stagecoach said: “I’ve ridden the 685 myself four times and, other than the driver, I was the only one who did the full route. So there is very little end to end traffic on the route.

“The last breakdown we had was in September 2013 and the service has proved to be very reliable.

“Our punctuality is very good and we monitor our drivers through something called ‘Green Road.’

“The system monitors if a driver is braking sharply or taking corners too fast.”

Mr Winters said that the company planned to put new buses on the route within this calendar year, with coach-style seating, seatbelts and wi-fi.

Responding to Mr Winters’ report, Coun. Peter Jackson stated that he had received comments from people having problems getting on to busy buses at certain times of the day.

Coun. Sharp agreed: “I have received comments from residents and these issues have been mentioned at every meeting for the last six months. The service has improved and complaints are reducing but it’s important that we do heed what the residents say.

“I think we need to have a further debate to look at the service going forward once we get these matters sorted out because I have serious concerns about the future of these rural bus services.”

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