The Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority Cabinet have agreed plans to pilot a “demand-responsive” bus service to help improve transport links in rural communities across the region.
Areas of Darlington, Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland will be used for the pilot, which will see passengers able to pre-book via a phone, smartphone app or via a website. They can request pick-up and drop-off points within the serviced area, and to destinations including transport hubs and hospitals outside of the area.
The scheme aims to help residents in more isolated communities access essential services and training and employment opportunities that are being created across Tees Valley.
Procurement is now under way and it is expected the new model will be up and running by the end of 2019 for a minimum of three years. If successful, there is potential to extend the service into other rural and possibly urban areas.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “People in rural areas are frequently left behind as routes are decided by bus companies that need to make a profit.
“We’re driving cash into every part of our transport network, from upgrades to our major train stations, roads, and walking and cycling routes and an airport that’s now in our control - but I can’t nationalise buses. That’s why this Uber-style service is a great answer to get those people not served by other routes moving and where they need to be.”
Cllr Heather Scott, Combined Authority Cabinet lead for Transport, said: “Everyone in Tees Valley deserves a reliable, affordable and good-quality public transport, no matter where they live.
“There’s no point in us working hard to create jobs and training, or to improve our town centres and attractions if our residents can’t access any of it. This scheme will help those who need it most benefit from the opportunities and changes we’re bringing about.”
At the meeting, the Mayor and Cabinet noted the recommendation to continue exploring the potential for partnership working with existing bus operators across the region, and talks with the operators on the opportunities of this model have begun to explore the final shape this will take.
The contents of the Combined Authority’s draft Strategic Transport Plan were also approved. This strategy will help deliver the proposed vision to provide a high quality, clean, quick, affordable reliable and safe transport network for people and freight to move within, to and from Tees Valley.
The plan covers all major forms of transport, including road and rail, public transport and sustainable travel including walking and cycling. A 12-week consultation will now be launched before the plan is formally adopted in early 2020.