Villagers urge re-think over rural bus route

RURAL residents have urged a bus company to have a re-think about its plans to alter one of its routes.

Go North East took on the 74 service to and from Newcastle, which runs through Matfen, Stamfordham, Dalton and Ponteland among other places, in April 2009 after winning the contract from Northumberland County Council.

At that time, Monday-to-Saturday daytime journeys ran via Callerton, while the evening and Sunday buses served Newcastle Airport and Kingston Park.

In spring 2010, the council asked the company if it would consider running all journeys via the airport and Kingston Park. This change was made in November 2010 and, at the same time, the route was extended to Hexham.

Now it has reverted back to Callerton for Monday-to-Saturday journeys from next month, because it claims that not enough people have been getting on the bus.

But Stamfordham resident David Hall believes that Go North East should give the current route more time to see if numbers improve.

“It’s far too early to axe this section of the journey,” he said.

“Some people living along the route haven’t realised until recently that this bus goes to the airport and I think some still don’t. A Hexham-based travel agent told me they weren’t aware of a direct bus to the facility so anyone asking staff would have been told there wasn’t one.

“The company should give it another year and if there isn’t an increase in passengers then it is fair enough to make the changes.

“This move will also cut people off from the Metro service six days a week.

“Many residents who are catching a train from Newcastle would prefer to get on the airport stop and go to Central Station rather than having to walk down from the Eldon Square bus station with their cases. I think the changes will lead to fewer people using the service.”

Ponteland West county councillor Veronica Jones raised the prospect of the number 74 going to the airport and Kingston Park daily with officers two years ago and Go North East made the alteration.

She said: “I was surprised to hear that the route is going back through Callerton and Westerhope. A lot of people were really pleased when the first changes were made in November 2010, so it’s hard to accept what the company is saying about passenger numbers being too low.”

Sunday journeys will continue to serve the airport and Kingston Park. The Stagecoach X77/X78 does not run on Sundays, which would have left Ponteland with no bus to the airport on this day, and Go North East says there is more passenger demand for the airport than Callerton on Sundays.

Of the Monday to Saturday alteration, a company spokesman said: “In November 2011, a review of the service showed that passenger numbers on the airport route had still not reached the same level as they were on the original Callerton route.

“Despite the good reasons for making this change, it had not proved successful and the service was therefore providing less access than previously and delivering lower value for money.

“We therefore agreed with Northumberland County Council to vary the contract specification once more and revert to serving Callerton, which will take effect from March 25.