Reversal of fortune for county’s threatened bus services

The 856 bus at Aysgarth.

North Yorkshire’s transport boss has spoken of his optimism that all existing bus services will be saved and the network expanded over the coming years, just over a year after raising fears nearly 80 routes were close to being wiped out.

Councillor Keane Duncan, the Tory candidate to become North Yorkshire and York’s first elected mayor, said the county’s public transport services had undergone a reversal of fortune due after landing a £2.9m Government grant and a £2 price cap being introduced on local and regional journeys.

Coun Duncan revealed to a meeting of North Yorkshire Council’s executive many of the county’s bus services were “more popular than ever” and some services had even become “too popular”.

He said the Department for Transport funding would serve as “a lifeline to services” without which “many services would have ceased” and that having achieved survival, anyone elected to become mayor would face the challenge of reversing the erosion of bus routes in the county.

Bus campaigners said they hoped the statement marked “a significant milestone” for public transport services in the county which shrunk by one of the largest amounts in the country over the last decade.

Since the North Yorkshire Rural Commission recommended the county’s transport bosses “take up the opportunity to provide more innovative passenger transport” in 2021, there has been little progress on increasing coverage of rural areas, partly due to the failure of a demand-responsive bus service scheme.

Last summer, North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for highways and transportation warned of a “grave” situation facing public transport in North Yorkshire, with about a third of the network, 79 routes, being under threat due to passenger numbers remaining low following the pandemic.

It came just three months after it emerged the authority’s £116 million Bus Back Better bid had been rejected in its entirety by the government, which claimed the bid had lacked “sufficient ambition”.

However, Coun Duncan said the Department for Transport grant of £2.9m, which the Government has stipulated must not used to replace existing council support for public bus services, would help ensure all services are maintained until after the launch of a mayoral combined authority.

The meeting heard existing service levels would be maintained, “based on local circumstances and need”, over the next two years.

The funding will be spent on what the council considers “are the best overall outcomes in growing long-term patronage, revenues and thus maintaining service levels, whilst maintaining essential social and economic connectivity” for communities.

Coun Duncan told the meeting he was delighted to be reporting “a much more positive picture” as a result of the council’s action plan to work closely with bus operators.

After claiming that “not a single service had ceased as a result of becoming commercially unviable”, fellow Conservative councillor Paul Haslam said told the meeting a Harrogate bus service had been lost over commercial viability.

Coun Duncan replied the authority had “supported changes to timetables to help the viability of several routes across the county”.

He added the achievement of the council’s passenger transport team could not be underestimated and the £2 fare cap had been “immensely successful in getting passengers back on to services”.

Coun Duncan said: “We are hopeful that we can continue to support all the services across the county over the coming months and years. It gives us the solid foundations we need to support those lifeline services.

“It gives us a solid foundation for building that network back in the coming months and years.”