The dispute between bus operator Arriva and Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen over a deal for concessionary fares is being reviewed by the government.
Arriva lost responsibility for dozens of services across the Tees Valley, including Darlington, earlier this year after failing to reach a funding agreement with the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA).
It blamed the authority for a 28 per cent cut in funding for the English National Concessionary Fares Scheme (ENCTS) – a programme which provides revenue reimbursement for carriage of free bus travel for eligible people to ensure operators aren’t financially worse off.
The reimbursement rates proposed, Arriva said, would not cover the costs of running a significant number of its services.
Now, the Department for Transport is due to review Arriva’s appeal against TVCA’s pay offer. The adjudicator is currently considering evidence from the operator and will issue a decision in due course.
After failing to reach an agreement in the summer, Arriva said: “Unfortunately, the rates at which TVCA have felt able to reimburse Arriva for their respective ENCTS schemes for this new financial year has been cut by up to 28 per cent in comparison to levels of reimbursement provided before Covid.
“At the same time Arriva are operating around 94 per cent of service miles in comparison across both areas in total. These reimbursement rates fall well below the levels paid by other authorities within the region and, in our view, are not in line with the latest concessionary guidance issued by the Department for Transport.”
However, TVCA insists the changes are a commercial decision made by Arriva, not the authority and is determined to ensure passengers get value for money. The authority argued that it offered a “fair settlement” which was approved by Stagecoach and Go North East, two other operators in the region.
Conservative mayor Ben Houchen added: “”It is incredibly disappointing, but sadly not suprising, that Arriva North East are yet again putting their own interests above the needs of the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool by objecting to the Traffic Commissioner.
“We’ve fought tooth and nail to ensure the best possible deals when it comes to bus services in our region – and there is cross party support for us to keep fighting for a solution which works for everyone, not just greedy corporations putting profit before passengers.”
Arriva said it would not respond while the appeal is ongoing.