A rural bus service which has lost funding due to the government axing railway franchises is being given a stay of execution.
North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmondshire constituency committee heard the Dales Bus 856 Sunday service linking the market towns of Northallerton, Bedale, Leyburn and Hawes was among a number of services, including ones serving the North York Moors, that were under threat.
The meeting was told the service would only last until Christmas unless extra funding to allow time for an alternative way of financing the service was found.
Members heard Northern Trains, operating the Settle to Carlisle line, and Transpennine Express, on the East Coast Mainline, had funded bus links and connections between railway stations and public transport as it was a requirement of the franchise bids under which they operated until recently.
Announcing the end of rail franchises, which have been in place since the 1990s, last month Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said the model of privatisation had seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but the pandemic had proven that it was no longer working.
Upper Wensleydale resident Ruth Annison said the service was used by people from all walks of life, ranging from students returning to university to hospital visitors. She said the loss of the service would mean “many people’s lives will be critically affected”.
A council spokesman said public transport operated in urban areas where demand funded services seven days a week, but in rural areas demand was often insufficient to be attractive to commercial operators and other solutions were needed.
He said the authority spent more than £1.5m annually providing bus services to areas which would otherwise have no other service and last year saw 1.3 million people travel on bus services provided by the council.
The spokesman said: “It is acknowledged that the Sunday services provide benefits, but the county council is obliged to prioritise the limited funding within the council towards areas of greatest need. The council’s focus was on providing residents with access to essential services.
“To redirect funding towards Sunday and leisure bus services would mean others, often the elderly and the more vulnerable, would be denied the vital transport they need for living and therefore cannot be justified.”
However, Northallerton councillor Caroline Dickinson said she and five other members who lived along the bus service’s route had noted how valued the service was and had agreed Dales Bus should be given time to find a funding solution.
The meeting was told the councillors would provide £500 from each of their Locality Budgets in the hope that a further funding for the service could be found by Easter.
The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, added one of the proposed North Yorkshire and York devolution asks was for “many millions of pounds” for further bus subsidies.