Concerns mount for public transport in national parks

The Dalesbus at Usha Gap in Swaledale.

Concerns are mounting over access to public transport across the most remote communities in England’s largest county as the custodians of two national parks revealed they were considering how inadequate or threatened services could be given a boost.

Hours before the Yorkshire Dales National Park announced it was set to press North Yorkshire Council and other local authorities for urgent action to ramp up trains and buses, members of the North York Moors National Park Authority were told many Moorsbus services would be cut unless extra funding could be found.

A growing number of members of both national park authorities believe it is incumbent on them to directly or indirectly intervene in the provision of public transport across the areas, saying the services are vital for communities, tourism and cutting carbon emissions.

A meeting of the Moors authority in Helmsley heard the community interest company which has run several Moorsbus services from the towns surrounding the national park in recent years was facing a cash crisis and running a “very minimal timetable”.

Authority member John Ritchie told the meeting the loss of Moorbus services threatened the authority’s key ambitions.

He said: “It strikes me that Moorsbus is in a very precarious position and many communities rely on that service. It would be a crying shame to see it being reduced.”

The authority’s chairman Jim Bailey added Moorsbus’ funding appeal related to “a massive part of what we do”, in terms of the authority’s second purpose to attract visitors, helping improve people’s health and wellbeing and improving the environment.

He said the authority’s officers would examine the Moorsbus appeal in the coming weeks.

Directors of Moorbus said they held a “crisis meeting” after realising with just £18,00O in its account for the coming year it would only be able to run a skeleton service over a restricted number of months partly due to inflationary pressures and difficulty fundraising during the cost of living crisis.

One director, Eden Blyth, said: “Unless more funding becomes available we running a very limited service, although we haven’t decided what that’s going to be, which compared with the three-days-a-week service we ran over five months pre-Covid will come as a bit of blow to our passengers.”

The appeal follows campaigner Colin Speakman, a trustee of the North Yorkshire Moors Association and vice president of Friends of the Dales, accusing both national park authorities of regarding public transport as “one of their lowest priorities”.

However, a meeting of the Yorkshire Dales authority next Tuesday is expected to see its members press North Yorkshire Council and other local authorities to help oversee a “significant increase” in bus service coverage and frequency across the area, as well as improved coordination between bus and rail operators.

In November, North Yorkshire transport boss Councillor Keane Duncan has underlined how the county’s existing bus network was “facing a really grave situation”, in a year which has also seen the government completely reject the authority’s £116m plan to revive public transport.

In addition, instead of considering reviving bus services axed during austering the incoming unitary authority is looking to have to find £69m of savings over the next four years.

Since among the country’s most severe cutbacks in public transport funding during austerity, the county council has ploughed £1.6m annually into subsidising scores of bus services.

Despite this, the Dales authority is set to call for measures to increase bus and rail travel, more evenly spaced services and increased capacity for cycles on trains. It says of the five million visitors to the national park a year, only four per cent travel by bus or coach and two per cent by train.

Both park authorities have adopted the county council-approved Local Enterprise Partnership’s Route Map to Carbon Negative, which included an ambition to reduce private car usage by 48 per cent by 2030 and increase the use of buses and trains.

The Dales authority’s member champion for the natural environment Mark Corner said it was becoming increasingly clear for climate mitigation and accessibility, councils needed “to bring about a situation where people use cars less and public transport more”.

At a meeting in September last year, the authority adopted the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s route map to carbon negative’, which included an ambition to reduce private car usage by 48% by 2030 and increase the use of buses and trains.

Mr Corner, said: “Public transport is not an area for which the National Park Authority is responsible. However, it’s increasingly clear that for reasons of climate mitigation and accessibility, we need those bodies who are responsible to bring about a situation where people use cars less and public transport more.”

“We want visitors to be able access the countryside for the benefit of their mental and physical wellbeing, and we want them to be able to do that easily and sustainably. In addition we need to support people who live and work here to help reduce their own carbon footprint by having the access to better public transport.

“It is well understood that some local people often have to travel long distances to access services and facilities.


“We are looking to set out our position on public transport in anticipation of working closely in partnership with local bodies that have responsibility for public transport – the new North Yorkshire and Westmorland & Furness councils and Lancaster City Council – to bring about a change in how people travel to the National Park and move around within it.”