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Roads to Nowhere

What does the future hold for rural buses in North Yorkshire?

mabrams's picture
12.06.2014 | mabrams | Save our buses

Over the last few months and weeks almost every news story on buses in North Yorkshire has been bleak. Firstly, last year North Yorkshire County Council proposed to cut £1.1 million, almost 30 per cent of its funding for supported bus services, and carried out a public consultation. 

Then early this year the proposals were signed off by the Council who went ahead and cut near to 50 percent, almost twice what was proposed, after finding what it described as “efficiency savings”. Now the cuts are starting to bite and services across the region have been scaled back leaving many areas effectively cut off.

Bus cuts affect communities

Losing a bus service sends shockwaves across any community. Whether young or old, employed or jobless, a lack of public transport can plunge people into a life of isolation, stifle educational attainment and destroy employment opportunities. This is made worse when vital bus services are cut without appropriate prior warning as seems to have happened in areas of Swaledale and Wensleydale. Local Authorities are expected to be clear and transparent at all times especially when undertaking such sensitive reviews into bus subsidy, sadly for the people of Swaledale and Wensleydale this does not appear to have happened with some vital bus routes.

Elsewhere in North Yorkshire, the recent news of the cherished Pennine Motor Company going out of business after 88 years of serving the community was terrible, not just for the local residents affected but for the wider bus industry, especially smaller operators. The reason cited by company secretary Maurice Simpson was because North Yorkshire County Council has cut its reimbursement for concessionary travel by a fifth. This leaves smaller companies that operate in predominantly rural areas seriously out of pocket as a large proportion of their passengers are pensioners with bus passes. The chronic underfunding of the concessionary pass scheme from Central Government has meant significant cuts to buses across England and Wales with the worst of the cuts hitting rural areas hardest.

Concessionary travel

There have even been recent Parliamentary debates on the subject. Anne McIntosh MP for Thirsk and Malton secured a debate on rural bus services and concessionary travel. Her argument was that the legislation around concessionary travel should be changed to allow pensioners to contribute to their bus pass or fare. Our position is that encouraging pensioners to pay for their bus travel won’t solve the problem and will rouse resentment among concessionary pass holders. Instead, MPs like Anne McIntosh should be pushing for long term consistent support for bus services from national Government.

The key bus services run by Pennine Motor Services around Skipton and Settle have now stopped and local residents are now faced with an inadequate bus service with small minibuses which are unable to cope with the loadings. It is time for local and national Governments to work together to ensure that people in rural areas such as North Yorkshire are not cut off.

Staying positive

But, whilst the situation for buses in North Yorkshire seems bleak, it is not all doom and gloom. Following cuts to services local residents of North Yorkshire have started to fight back, coming together and forming campaign groups and putting pressure on the council to reinstate lost bus services. A prime example is the new ‘Save the Upper Swaledale Bus Campaign’ which has generated a great deal of interest locally and over 500 people have signed petitions to reinstate the number 30 service. Incredibly, this group has secured a partial victory and the council has reinstated the number 30 on a temporary basis which is a wonderful victory for people power. The campaign is continuing until the council confirms that this reinstated bus is running permanently.

The Dales bus is another great example of the local community coming together and fighting for their bus service, and going so far as to provide and effectively run one themselves. With funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, a local enterprise has been set up to provide much needed access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and surrounding communities.

People Power

People in North Yorkshire and beyond are coming together, getting organised to ensure that their local communities have a future and that people, young and old can access public services, jobs and places of education. A future without adequate public transport would be bleak but as long as there are people with enough fight to stand up and campaign to save their bus services then there are many reasons to stay positive.

The hard work now is to make sure MPs are listening. Pitiful attendance at a recent Parliamentary debate would suggest they are not but with less than 12 months until the General Election, we are continuing to do all we can to make the case for buses and ensure all MPs understand the importance of buses for their constituents and the country as a whole.

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