AN 'UBER'-style bus network could be launched in Darlington and Teesside to ease transport woes in more rural areas.

Original plans to franchise the region's bus network, giving civic leaders more of a say over bus rates, are expected to be shelved at a meeting next week, and instead an 'enhanced partnership' is planned with bus services.

However, funding for 'demand-responsive transport' is on the agenda, to offer rural areas and villages the chance to use mobile technology to order buses.

A £150,000 sum was pumped into looking at bus franchising in the Tees Valley last year.

This is the model used in London, where Mayor Sadiq Khan decides the routes, timetables and fares on offer and then puts them out to tender.

But TVCA reports estimate it would cost £4m to get the project going on Teesside – and two or three years to start it up.

A costly franchising conflict between bus firms and the combined authority in Greater Manchester has also dissuaded transport bosses from going down this route on Teesside.

In a short statement, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “Next week we’ll be signing off funding for a new “Uber-style” bus network covering remote areas of the region, such as East Cleveland.

Transport leaders at the combined authority have kept a watching brief on Manchester’s franchising efforts in recent months.

Tom Bryant, head of transport at the TVCA, said Manchester had spent over £10m already looking at the feasibility of a franchise scheme, and there may be a legal battle over it.

Labour MPs Paul Williams and Alex Cunningham have criticised Mayor Houchen for failing to use powers at his disposal to sort out transport problems for those in rural areas such as east Cleveland.

But an “Uber-style” model is being planned which would see passengers order and track a vehicle from a mobile phone app, choosing their pick-up point and even reserving seats.

A similar scheme called Arriva Click is run in Liverpool, whereby passengers book and pay for journeys on a smartphone app, which matches passengers travelling between similar points and calculates the route.