Council urged to press on with public transport solutions despite YorBus ‘failure’

A YorbBus collects passengers.

Elected community representatives have called on a council serving England’s largest county to press on with finding innovative solutions to improve public transport access after the “failure” of its flagship demand-responsive bus service trial.

A week after North Yorkshire Council announced it would abandon the Yorbus on-demand bus service it had hoped to roll out to numerous rural areas poorly served by buses, councillors from across the political spectrum sounded a less upbeat tone about the outcome of the pilot.

While the authority issued a press release stating future transport services would be shaped by lessons from Yorbus, a report to a meeting of the council’s Skipton and Ripon Constituency Committee underlined how Yorbus had seen a further £224,000 of taxpayers money pumped into it after disappointing first year figures.

Despite changes to try to improve uptake, the high-profile service across the Bedale, Masham and Ripon area carried just 14,208 passengers over 12 months, at an average cost per passenger of £15.57 across the year. This is significantly higher than that for fixed timetable bus routes in the area which are around £6.50 per passenger.

Within months of Yorbus being launched, public transport experts had said it was unsustainable and needed a major overhaul to attract more passengers.

The authority’s hopes of extending demand-responsive transport were dealt a further blow last year when the Government rejected the county’s £116m Bus Back Better bid in its entirety, citing a “lack of ambition”, a claim the council has rejected.

The committee heard how Yorbus had often been seen driving around with few or no passengers and one Conservative member claim following disappointing Yorbus figures for the first year, officers had worked “to try and prove the concept”.

Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Murday questioned why the council had not abandoned the trial after the first year, adding: “Obviously the project has failed and there are better ways of providing public transport.”

The meeting heard the trial had been extended for a further year largely to test if changes to the booking system improved take-up.

Councillors were told while the development of public transport was a key part of the council’s economic development plan, particularly to boost tourism, more rural bus services, including a regular service to the Yorkshire Dales gateway town of Grassington, were under threat.

Some councillors suggested the council should look to facilitate taxi or car-sharing through localised social media accounts before others pointed towards passenger safety concerns.

He said as the taxi licensing authority, the council could study taxi-sharing initiatives as a form of public transport.

Referring to Yorbus, Coun Jabbour added: “This experience should not make the council less bold in its drive to explore new creative and innovative ways to improve public transport in our county.”