Council’s one-year bus service improvement plan branded ‘pointless’

Northern DalesBus at Muker in Swaledale.

North Yorkshire Council, which saw its £116m plan for a long-term overhaul of public transport entirely rejected by the Government, has been criticised after setting out how it intends to spend a £3.5m Department of Transport grant to enhance services for one year only.

Two years after North Yorkshire County Council had its bid for a share of the £3bn Bus Back Better fund turned down, North Yorkshire Council’s executive looks set to approve accepting Department of Transport funding to extend some services for 12 months.

An officer’s report to the meeting on Tuesday (March 19) states the funding will be used to increase the frequency of some services and reduce the cost of travel for under 19s.

The report states it is hoped the funding will “increase ridership and make services financially sustainable”.

It adds: “Should the increased services not be utilised by the public during this period and therefore not become commercially viable, they will be withdrawn at the end of the funding period in March 2025.”

Around a third of bus services in North Yorkshire have seen timetable reductions or have needed extra financial support since the pandemic, partly due to rising operating costs and difficulties recruiting drivers.

Overall passenger numbers have recovered to around 90 per cent of pre-Covid levels, but concessionary pass users remain at about 70 per cent of before the pandemic.

Rural routes are said to have been particularly affected as older passengers
represented a greater proportion of users.

The officer’s report states “providers are reviewing their services more than
ever before, resulting in commercial service level reductions and higher prices for routes operating under contract to the council”.

The proposed changes follow the publication last month of a consultation over transport in the county, which showed low levels of satisfaction with the transport system.

Only 16 per cent of 4,800 responses felt the system met their needs, and the satisfaction figure dropped to 12 per cent in rural areas.

More than three-quarters of respondents identified the availability and reliability of travel as being a concern.

The move to cut bus costs for children comes as the authority looks to save about £3m from its annual £42m school transport bill by making school catchment-related changes, triggering complaints from parents in rural areas such as the Yorkshire Dales.

Ahead of the meeting Councillor Keane Duncan, the authority’s executive member for highways and transport and Tory candidate to become the region’s first elected mayor in May, said the £3.5m grant would fund more than 30 service improvements in “all corners of the county”.

He said: “This is a significant reversal of fortune. With £3.5m of extra funding, we are delivering the most significant boost for North Yorkshire bus
services in over a decade.”

Nevertheless, opposition members said the government was using the issue of community transport for electioneering purposes and was setting the council up to fail.

Leader of the authority’s Labour group, Councillor Steve Shaw Wright, said the money was “a drop in the ocean of what is needed” and its temporary nature made it “almost pointless”.

He said: “It is just a sticking plaster. It is bringing false hope to the masses.”

Councillor Stuart Parsons, Independent group leader, said he believed the council needed to take back control of bus services, so that profitable bus routes could be used to support those not considered commercially viable.

He said: “It’s a mockery the council is about to put about £3m into buses and yet they are planning in pulling about £3m out of home to school transport.

“The government should be ashamed of themselves for offering one year’s money, which brings no long-term improvement. Everybody knows if you’re adding services it takes a while for people to get used to and be aware of them, so they are going to waste the money and withdraw the services.”

2 Comments

  1. Councillor Stuart Parsons seems to have got the right answer to this problem.

    He believes if the council take back control of the bus services.

    Then go back to the old system where the contractor will have to take on the none profitable runs as well as the good profitable runs so one compensate the other and ensures every one has a good bus service as it was back in the 1950/60s era when the United buses ran buses regularly up and down Wensleydale and to Darlington, Northallerton and Ripon etc

    The old saying WHAT GOES ROUND COMES ROUND let’s just hope some one out there can see and stop all this big profit making on some profitable runs and to hell with the rest.

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