A national report calling on the Government not to overlook counties in its forthcoming bus investment strategy has been welcomed by North Yorkshire Council.
A report by the County Councils Network and the County All-Party Parliamentary Group has found that services in counties are operating at minimum levels following years of funding reductions. The report’s analysis reveals there were 97 million fewer bus journeys in 2019 across 36 counties compared to a decade ago due to a £348m funding gap.
North Yorkshire alone has seen a declining trend in bus passenger numbers, from 17.3m in 2011/12 to 12.2m in 2018/19.
The report warns that only a fair share of resources will bridge this funding shortfall and calls for the gap to be filled and for further long-term investment into the 2020s from the Government’s £4bn National Buses Strategy, which is due to be unveiled in the coming weeks. The report recommends:
- providing adequate long-term funding for county bus services to transport authorities that recognises the challenges of running these services;
- reviewing the concessionary travel bus pass scheme in consultation with operators and local authorities;
- considering the benefits a range of passenger transport services can bring to residents, particularly in more deprived and rural area, and the extent to which an improved public transport offer could assist in levelling-up the country;
- amend regulations to allow local authorities, where better value could be achieved, to run their own bus companies to implement new routes where demand is not met by the private sector;
- recognise the value community and voluntary services bring, and make provisions to ensure their financial sustainability to allow them to keep running, and to introduce new schemes and routes where needed;
- encourage bus operators to work with local authorities to optimise routes and timetables, making public transport a more attractive option; and
- include a strategy and investment plan for the role out of low-emission vehicles and/or for the electrification of bus fleets, alongside associated infrastructure.
North Yorkshire County Council Leader Cllr Carl Les said: “We welcome the CCN/APPG report and the work the CCN does in highlighting issues relevant to England’s 36 county authorities and the 26 million people who live in them. We support many of the recommendations in this report, which align closely with our own ambitions and our asks of Government.”
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “A decline in bus passenger numbers does not necessarily equate to a decline in need. Good public transport links are essential in North Yorkshire, particularly in remote areas and particularly among the rising elderly population, disadvantaged residents and those who need to travel to improve their job prospects, notably the young. This is especially true as our communities and businesses work to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We strive to create maximum value for people living and working in North Yorkshire with the limited funds we have available to support bus services, working closely with bus companies and community transport providers.
“However, while we provide £1.5m in bus subsidies each year, we have had to reduce our budget by more than £5m over the past eight years.”