The proposed changes and cuts to a number of rural bus services across North Yorkshire has resulted in some recent heated debate - with some residents across the Yorkshire Dales worried about losing their only link to the wider region.
The County Council has committed to spend £5.12 million on bus subsidies in next year's budget - an increase on the current year.
However, there remains a £311,000 shortfall in the amount required to maintain the current level of service.
The report recommends that, in order to remain within its budget, the Council should implement changes to timetables and fares as well as withdrawing up to ten poorly used bus routes.
The authority has undertaken a public consultation and claims that whilst it clearly demonstrates that the majority wish to maintain subsidised rural transport, they do not to want to see publicly funded buses running with no or very few passengers.
According to the report, the council should take a "balanced approach", recognising the importance of public transport services to rural areas and minimising the impact on people travelling within North Yorkshire.
Councillor Clare Wood, the County Council's executive member for environmental services, said:
"I am delighted with the thousands of responses to the County Council's public consultation exercise on subsidised transport, which have really helped us understand what the people of North Yorkshire want from their bus service.
"I believe the recommendations of the report spell out a bus service that not only meets the transport needs of North Yorkshire's communities, but also represents value for money".
The report could herald the end of a number of services across the Yorkshire Dales, including:
- The 112 and 130 services between Sedbergh, Hawes and Thwaite (Tuesday and Friday)
- The X53 service between Masham, Well Carthorpe, Northallerton and the Friarage Hospital (All services)
- The 34 service between Richmond and Darlington (Evenings and Sundays)
- The 904 service between Harrogate and Otley (Evenings and Sundays)
- The X84 service between Leeds, Otley and Skipton (Evenings and Sundays between Ilkley and Skipton)
A number of other routes could see fare increases or community transport schemes promoted.
The report will be considered and a final decision made on Wednesday (1st March).
Meanwhile, Councillor Clare Wood has responded to criticism of the proposals and taken a swipe at her opponents in a letter that is published below.
What do you think? Is the County Council right to consider axing some services and increasing fares on other routes?
Send us you views by filling in the form at the bottom of the page.
Subsidies for local buses
There has been much public and media interest in the subject of subsidies for rural buses, some of it producing more heat than light. The debate is important, and wide-ranging public discussion is vital. May I, as the elected member responsible for public transport at North Yorkshire County Council, lay out some facts which will help to explain the background to our review of subsidised rural buses.
The County Council has significant contracts with bus companies to provide a network of routes which would not be sustainable if left to the commercial sector. NYCC currently subsidises 160 different contracts. It is only right that we keep these under the closest scrutiny, and get best value from them.
During the financial year 2006/7, the County Council will invest more than £5m in supporting rural bus services. This is more than we are spending in this current year. There will continue, however, to be a shortfall in overall funding as we balance the needs of other essential services such as working with vulnerable older people. Meanwhile we face rising costs passed on to us by the bus operators.
I believe that the consultation exercise carried out by the County Council over the last two months has been important. It has generated over 1000 responses. Of course I, like the vast majority of respondents, want to continue to see rural bus services with the highest level of support possible; but many people have also expressed concern about buses with either no passengers at all, or very few. For example, one of the contract services under the review is worth £86,000. It carries a subsidy per passenger of £18.18, and the average number of passengers per journey is 3.
We have a duty to the taxpayer to ensure that we spend wisely what money we have. Indeed the end result of the review, as the public report will show, proposes that only 10 contracts will be affected. Very few North Yorkshire residents will be disadvantaged. Everyone can be reassured that we are spending their taxes as sensibly as possible. There will be some amendments to time tables and fare structures on other routes; but the fact is that NYCC will continue to provide a very good network of rural bus services over a large land area, so much of it very rural. We will continue to champion other ways of keeping North Yorkshire moving, such as community based transport which can be more responsive to actual demand.
For the future, I intend again to ensure that we have an early dialogue with all interested parties, in particular with Parish Councils whose opinions we value so much, to identify how best to use the money available to us. I believe that this is a shared responsibility and that by working together we can achieve the best results.
Sadly, in the political world we live in, opposition politicians can always find easy pickings from ill-informed observation and so raise fears unnecessarily. I believe that the results of this consultation are a success, at a time of starvation of funds for rural communities from central government. Despite rising costs and ever-increasing diktats, the Conservative administration at NYCC has produced overall plans which make the best use of the money we receive from our residents. I am sure that the communities we serve in North Yorkshire will see the sense in what we have concluded.
Executive Member for Environmental Services
Dear Ms C. Wood,
As a driver of one of the services you talk about in your letter I am Saddened to hear that you are going to give the service that I drive to an operator who will do it for less.
The cost of providing a service should not be your only concearn but how that service is carried out In Ripon the city service has been done now by me for over two years in which time I have called ambulances and the police when Required for any of my passengers Looked after the wlfare of young and old alike and made many friends.
The company that I work for can see the requirment for having a driver who will look after and care for all of his passengers not just get them on and off in the shortest possible time, also to notice when they are not around and to ask friends and neighbours to check on them.
The company that I work for quoted the same price as last year, This can only mean that the company that has now taken the contract is doing it for less and will most lickley give less of a service.
I felt that I had to make my feelings known and now I Have.
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