’Radical rehtink needed’ for bus services in rural North Yorkshire

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A task force looking at the future of bus services which are a lifeline in rural communities in North Yorkshire has called for a radical rethink of the way services are provided – in the light of a major squeeze in funding.

Senior members of North Yorkshire County Council have already agreed to slash bus subsidies from £4.4m to £2.4m.

A report prepared for councillors warns there will be a further review of the cash the authority pays out to help keep the services running which could lead to more cuts. The authority’s executive will meet on Tuesday to discuss a report put together by a task group on the future of rural transport in the county. It says in the face of Government budget cuts a radical rethink of how services are provided is needed.

It urges developing a network of volunteer car schemes to offer lifts to local people and recommends considering whether the public should be allowed to use school buses.

It also urges lobbying Government for a change in concessionary passes which mean the authority is helping to subsidise transport sometimes helping tourists from outside the county.

County Councillor Robert Heseltine, chairman of the task group, said: “In this era of public sector austerity our first priority has to be to provide transport services that enable our local communities to access essential services.

“This will to some degree involve managing expectations about what the county council can and cannot fund with its reduced budget for supporting subsidised bus services.”

He added: “It was evident early on that the review would need to look more widely than traditional bus services for solutions.

“Reduced public sector investment in bus services is felt most by people who do not own a car and who live and work in areas of the county where historically there has been a reliance on contracted bus services. Yet all areas need to have viable passenger transport in order to be able to access essential services.”

The council is part way through a savings programme which will see it have to save around £168m over an eight-year period.

At present around 20 per cent of bus services in North Yorkshire are subsidised. The report says it believes the authority should continue to provide “some level of bus subsidy” in the future even if there are further cuts.

It recommends existing services are better publicised and more young people are encouraged to use buses.

Around 66 per cent of people responding to public talks by the county council said they were concessionary bus pass holders. An increasingly ageing population will only lead to demand increasing, the report warns.

It urges councillors to lobby the Government over its concessionary bus pass scheme which entitles eligible older people to free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in England. It says some passengers would be willing to contribute towards the cost of their journeys which in turn could help to keep services running.

The county council is responsible for providing the concessionary travel scheme and although the Government meets part of the cost the council makes a significant contribution each year, sometimes paying for people from outside the county to use its buses.