Little White Bus held up as model of sustainable community transport

The Little White Bus.

The Little White Bus scheme has been held up as an example of a sustainable community transport scheme following the failure of a demand-responsive pilot that served Bedale.

North Yorkshire Council says it will consider giving more support to community transport providers and local car-share services in a bid to improve access to public transport in villages.

The authority, which is awaiting the results of a public consultation into residents’ transport wishes as well as facing a £30m budget shortfall, is examining cost-effective ways of boosting transport services following the authority admitting its flagship Yorbus demand-responsive transport pilot had failed.

It has emerged the Yorbus service for the Bedale, Ripon and Masham area cost more than £15 per passenger to run.

Ahead of launching the two-year pilot, which ends later this month, the council had been warned by public transport providers, including Moorbus, that demand-responsive transport would prove far too costly.

While transport campaigners are continuing to press the council to maintain the remaining timetabled bus services in rural areas, recent North Yorkshire Council meetings have heard councillors disagree over whether there is any appetite for public transport in rural areas and if more frequent services would entice people to leave their cars.

The authority’s Opposition leader, Councillor Bryn Griffiths said the ending of the trial later this month would mean “about 1,000 passengers a month without a bus service”.

A meeting of the council’s Richmond constituency committee heard him call for answers as to why the council had failed to win bids for huge amounts of Government funding for public transport schemes such as Yorbus.

During a debate over Yorbus, Councillor John Weighell, who led North Yorkshire County Council for nearly 14 years, said Yorbus had not met the needs of residents with mobility issues in rural areas as the stops were too far apart.

He said even before the Yorbus pilot was launched it had never appeared viable as the authority had previously worked on the principle of supporting services that needed a subsidy of £6 or less per passenger journey.

Coun Weighell questioned whether demand-responsive transport services would work better if they were limited to short journeys, close to larger market towns.

He said the authority should instead invest more money into developing and supporting voluntary-run community transport.

Coun Griffiths replied: “The problem is they rely on volunteers and we are struggling for volunteers at the moment. Stokesley has two community care buses and they are crying out for volunteers.”

Northallerton councillor Caroline Dickinson, a member of two North Yorkshire bus user groups, said there was “a big concern about the buses and getting people to appointments”.

She said: “There’s all the talk about getting people out of their cars onto buses, but in the Dales we don’t have buses.”

The authority’s leadership admit to disappointment at the failure of the two-year pilot, saying they had believed it could have been the “silver bullet” for North Yorkshire’s sparse public transport provision, particularly in rural areas.

Responding to criticism over the authority paying more than £200,000 to continue the pilot for a second year, the council’s leader Councillor Carl Les said it had been necessary to thoroughly test ways to attract more customers, such as bookings arrangements.

He said: “It is right to stop now we have proved the costs are prohibitive.”

The authority is now considering increasing its work with volunteer-run community transport providers to reduce the cost of vehicles.

Coun Les said the Little White Bus service, which has provided scheduled travel in Wensleydale and Swaledale since 2011, could be a better model to help improve transport access in rural areas.

Despite being in a remote area, the service run by paid and volunteer minibus drivers carries in excess of 60,000 passengers a year across 500,000 miles and provides school transport.

He said the authority was already promoting a car share scheme in Harrogate and would consider supporting such schemes for villages where people could search for any journeys they wanted to share, either as a driver or a passenger.