North Yorkshire County Council, which has faced criticism over its efforts to develop transport solutions in rural areas where commercial services are not viable, has submitted two bids for government funding to create demand-responsive services.
North Yorkshire County Council is seeking a share of £20 million to trial new on-demand services or to improve existing services in rural and suburban areas.
The aim of the Department for Transport scheme, which is offering grants of up to £1.5 million, is to deliver transport solutions that work better for local residents, as well as reduce the overall cost to the public of providing local transport in these areas.
Transport campaigners have repeatedly accused the council of failing to properly assess residents’ transport needs, mis-using funding given by the government for previous schemes and of showing a lack of appetite for to tackle the absence of transport options in some areas.
At a meeting later this week senior officers are set to approve a bid to help resolve some of the health transport issues in Richmondshire and the Hambleton area north of Thirsk, covering some 2,630sq km and a second bid offering electric vehicles and an uber-style booking app to communities to run services from hubs.
Following a public consultation earlier this year, officers said the main challenge faced by residents was that the area is very large, travel times and distances to access basic services are significant, healthcare provision is split across sites far apart and public transport is extremely limited.
The scheme incorporates among the lowest population densities in England and an ageing population, with 23.7 per cent of residents aged 65 or over compared to 17.9 per cent nationally.
An officers’ report states the project area sees about 27,000 no-shows to appointments a year, losing £811,870 in consultation time.
It states: “Access to healthcare services is challenging. James Cook Hospital lies outside the county in Middlesbrough and is the largest in the area with a 24 hour A&E and specialist services such as cancer treatment. Friarage Hospital in Northallerton operates as a satellite facility with services including an Urgent Treatment Centre.
“However, there is no direct public transport link between the hospitals. There is a higher than average rate of no-shows for NHS appointments, which may be due to transport problems for patients.”
Across the scheme area, there is just one commercially-operated service.
Councillor Bryn Griffiths said: “For those who live in the smaller villages in North Hambleton, there is no or very little provision of bus services. Providing a demand-led service linked to Stokesley and Northallerton would be an ideal way to service these communities seven days a week.”
The other proposal would see community car clubs set up to enable households to reconsider the necessity to own a second car where additional transport service can be purchased as needed, economically by the hour.
Officers said the scheme would aim to remove “much of the onerous technical back office and administration away from the service provision” by using an automated support in the booking and scheduling of services and the allocation of paid or volunteer drivers.