North Yorkshire has seen some of the worst cuts to bus services in the whole of the UK, and as a result many people have been cut off and left without any bus service at all. An area of the Yorkshire Dales called Swaledale suffered this fate, but luckily there were people in the community who were determined to take a stand and fight for their bus service to keep the area connected. We are privileged to have them tell their fantastic story of people power here
A year ago, the communities of Upper Swaledale had the use of a scheduled bus three times a day from the nearest town, Richmond, – 20 miles away. Upper Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales, is one of the most remote parts of the UK and the bus service was a vital lifeline to access essential services (including health services, libraries and general shops). It is particularly needed by the elderly and those on low incomes without private transport. You may have got a sense of how remote it is from coverage of the Tour de France which passed through the area. Buses are also used by visitors to the area, which relies heavily on tourism.
Last autumn the North Yorkshire County Council consulted on changes to bus services as part of their drive to cut their budget. These proposals included the reduction of the bus service to Upper Swaledale to one a day. This was shocking news for the local communities and led to constructive counter proposals for a continued and adequate bus service. These proposals recognised the political inevitability of budget cuts but also the necessity of a bus service if the communities were not to wither away.
You can, perhaps, imagine therefore how shocked the residents of Upper Swaledale were in April this year, when the Council announced that it was stopping all scheduled services to the area and replacing them with a Dial-a-Ride service operated by a local community transport project. The bus would have to be booked 24 hours in advance and, as the service was run by volunteers, could not be guaranteed.
This led to the creation of the Save the Upper Swaledale Bus Campaign. The Campaign has involved petitions, public community meetings, requests for information under the Freedom of Information rights, meetings with the local MP and lobbying of councillors and other politicians at Council committee meetings. It has strong support within the community, including non-users of the buses, with a widespread recognition of how critical a scheduled, reliable public bus service is to the life of the community.
Residents have been active in getting petitions signed, attending meetings and leafleting. The local county councillor has recognised the strength of feeling and supported the cause. As a result of these various pressures, the council agreed to fund an alternative community bus service (which already operates in the next dale and uses a mix of volunteer and paid drivers) to extend its services to Upper Swaledale with a regular three times a day service on a trial basis.
It has recently been announced that the results of the trial have been favourable and it is to be extended to November and probably beyond. This is clearly better than the situation we found ourselves in six months ago but we recognise the fight is not over. Three major problems still remain. The timetabling of the bus service still means that certain groups are disadvantaged.
For example, secondary school children who are bussed through a separate service to and from their local school in Richmond cannot stay for after-school activities as there is no late afternoon scheduled bus that they can catch. Secondly, the lack of linkage with the wider bus network means that though concessionary bus passes are honoured, tickets such as Day Rovers are not available. And lastly, the service remains ‘on trial’ leaving concerns as to whether the service is sustainable. Related to this are lingering uncertainties about how the council has made, and will in the future make, such decisions within what appears a very opaque system.
We want to end by acknowledging the tremendous support we have got from the Campaign for Better Transport in terms of strategic advice, encouragement and interventions on our behalf when necessary. Thank you from the residents of Upper Swaledale.
Alison Stringer, Andrew Green, Christine Whitehead and Mary Green
Save the Upper Swaledale Bus Campaign