RIVAL bus companies have joined forces to encourage Tees Valley and South Durham commuters to leave their car at home.

Arriva and Stagecoach held a joint competition offering their drivers the chance to become the region’s face of the national ‘Catch the Bus Week’ campaign which starts on Monday.

The face of winning driver, Brian Arnold of Billingham, is appearing on bus posters across the Tees Valley and South Durham network - with the slogan ‘Catch the bus or break a driver’s heart’.

It is hoped the unconventional approach will encourage car users to think about their daily travel habits and the effect on congestion and the local environment.

Mr Arnold, who has been a bus driver for six years, said it was nice surprise to be involved in a photoshoot but admitted that it was “a bit surreal” seeing his face on buses around town.

Jonathan Spruce, director of the Tees Valley Bus Network Improvement Project which supports the campaign, said: “Bus companies and local authorities have invested over £57 million to improve local bus services, so this is a great time to trial the bus and see whether ridding yourself of your drive to and from work could save you time and money.

“Many of us fall into habits and get into the car without considering whether there might be a better way to complete a journey.

“Catch the Bus Week offers the perfect opportunity to reconsider how you could get from A to B and find out if there is an alternative that might be better for your commute.”

Nick Knox, area managing director at Arriva North East, added: “We understand that having a friendly, happy driver welcoming passengers onto the bus can make a big difference.

“As bus companies, customer service excellence is a big part of our driver training to ensure that our employees have the advice and support they need to give our customers an outstanding customer experience.”

To celebrate the campaign, the bus companies are staging two family-friendly events featuring dance troupes and activities in Darlington and Middlesbrough town centres this Friday and Saturday.

The campaign is also being supported by Connect Tees Valley and Local Motion.