Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from I McLaughlin (BUS 130)

I am writing this letter in a personal capacity, as a supporter of CT and public transport and to give additional information, which has come to light since January 2011.

(1)  Quote from Darlington and Stockton Times (14 January 2011) "Bus contract signed weeks before consultation ended" copy attached.[53] NYCC officials refused to comment on claims that they had pre-empted the outcome of the public consultation into the bus cuts by signing a contract with a bus service provider that removed evening and weekend services, three weeks before the consultation period on bus subsidy cuts ended. The contract for services 31A, 31B and 31C in Richmond was signed on 8 October, consultation ended on 31 October 2010.

(2)  Norman Baker £10 million of funding to kick start Community Transport development. NYCC has received £415,000 from this fund. At a meeting, 30 March 2011, for Community Transport providers, NYCC were asked if the money was ringfenced for CT? The reply was "no it wasn't" and "NYCC would use the money to support its deficit". So we the taxpayers can presumably not expect any improvement in rural or evening/ weekend bus services.

(3)  Hawes/Garsdale Head bus service. This service, provided by Little Red Bus, with a subsidy from NYCC, (£4.31 per passenger journey) connected Garsdale Head station to Hawes village and also took children to local schools. It then provided demand repsonsive services to take residents to the Doctor, Hospital, shops etc.

Garsdale Head is on the very successful Settle-Carlisle line, which was saved from closure by the local community some 20 years ago. The railway provides a vital link for those travelling to hospitals in Carlisle, Newcastle and Leeds and for work commuters and also for students travelling to Craven Further Education College, Skipton. (A car journey from Hawes to Skipton takes at least 60 minutes to cover 30 miles on hilly, winding roads.) Without the bus service, Garsdale Head can only be accessed by car, as it is remotely situated, high above Hawes about three miles from the village. After taking children to school, LRB connected to buses running down Swaledale to the larger service centres at Leyburn and Bedale and connecting to Richmond and Ripon. LRB also took walking parties and tourists from the trains into Hawes, where what they spent was a great boost to the local low wage economy. NYCC decided to withdraw funding for the service and it was due to end first week of April 2011).

Miraculously, NYCC then found funding to provide a new eight seater minibus, which meets only two of the trains at Garsdale Head (10am and 7.30pm) The new service is being provided by Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership in conjunction with NYCC but LRB was never involved in any discussions about the service and only learned about the service from press announcements. Strangely, the service being provided by UWCP is not dissimilar in type to that provided by LRB. The main difference is that LRB service was much more frequent and comprehensive. Services ran Mon-Sat, during 12 hours of the day and met all the trains coming in to Garsdale Head. The UWCP service doesn't seem to be very integrated when it no longer takes the children to school or meets each train that comes into the station and attempts were made to persuade drivers from LRB to join the new scheme which seems heavily reliant on untrained volunteers. Journeys will be at "a very subsidised cost", presumably up to £7.50 per passenger journey. (Max subsidy that NYCC will pay.) (Article in Yorkshire Post 17 March, "residents get on board to save village buses.")

I cannot understand how the new service can be better when service levels are reduced and cost must surely have increased, when taking into account the provision of a new vehicle. I have now learnt that the new service has not been able to commence "because of a lack of resources" and so LRB have been asked to step into the breach!!

(4)  The rural areas of North Yorkshire are very heavily dependent on cars and buses, as there are few railway lines and these tend to be on the county borders, as far as the very rural Dales area is concerned. (Carlisle-Settle-Skipton-Leeds) NYCC committed to reduce carbon emissions from transport, which are currently 38% of all emissions in N Yorks, by 32% by 2020. (Nationally CO2 emissions from transport average 21%) Unless more bus services are provided, CT or otherwise, people will have to make more use of cars, with consequent increases in carbon emissions. Cuts in bus subsidies and bus services, will only lead to higher CO2 emissions.

—  The community of Sleights, near Whitby was going to lose its bus services in the evening and weekends. This would have been a disaster for those who work in the pubs and restaurants of Whitby and needed to get home after their evening shift. NYCC totally ignored submissions by the locals and their Councillors. Fortunately, they took matters into their own hands. After discussions with the bus company it was agreed that fares would be increased, but services will still run and residents can remain gainfully employed.

(5)  At a time of rising fuel prices, N Yorks households in rural areas are spending at least £1,000 per annum extra on transport costs compared to households in urban areas and a further £1,600 extra on other household bills, (heating oil—no gas in rural areas-food etc) because of the costs of "importing" goods into remote rural areas (ONS).

(6)  There will always have to be subsidies for rural bus services, but NYCC seem to think this is not the case. There are not the volumes of passengers and the travelling distances between customers and their services are much greater than for those in the urban areas (60 minutes from Hawes to hospital A&E) thus affecting financial viability of services. However, that is not to say that subsidies cannot be reduced year on year. (As they have been by Dales and Bowland Community Interest Company buses.)

—  The current piecemeal attitude of providing subsidy for one or two years and then withdrawing the subsidy means that passengers are fearful of being reliant on public transport. Unfortunately, the old, sick, unemployed and disabled are most affected by this policy. If there isn't a bus service, they are trapped in their homes and become reliant on others to do shopping for them, take them to the doctor and the hospital etc. Isolation often leads to depression, (an unnecessary charge on NHS.)

—  Also there is not much point having a concessionary bus pass if there are no buses on which to use the pass.

—  The unemployed find it almost impossible to look for work, Internet connections in remoter areas are very poor and if they find work, usually low paid, how are they going to travel to it? (DWP then has to pay unemployment benefit for those who cannot get to work—these are NOT people who do not want to work)

—  Students have journeys of at least one hour to reach further education establishments. The costs and time involved may well put off many teenagers from furthering their education, thus exacerbating the problem of young people without qualifications.

(7)  NYCC Integrated Passenger Transport Unit. I do not understand why NYCC feels the need to have its own in house Integrated Passenger Transport Unit. (ITPU) I thought it was a recognised fact that private operators, CT and public transport providers are more likely to offer cost effective solutions. An integrated service makes the very best use of the resources available and delivers best value for money for those services, at the same time keeping down CO2 emissions. Discussions with CT providers, local employers, tourist attractions etc must be a starting point when considering provision of rural bus services (subsidised or not) NYCC only seem to understand that they have a pot of money for Education, one for Social Services, one for Transport etc. They all seem to be so busy fighting to preserve their own Empires, that there is no co-operation and thus services are duplicated, such as buses only for school pupils, which could also be used by Social Services, employees, walkers etc. NYCC do not seem to be interested in having discussions with CT providers as a whole. They seem to fear competition with their own IPTU.

—  In the rural areas a properly integrated service would mean a 16 seater mini bus could pick up pupils from outlying farms, hamlets and villages and take them to school along with people going to work and transport them to a larger village or town for transfer to larger vehicles or the train for onward travel to their destination. The larger bus may well have been "fed" passengers by a number of feeder services. The minibus can then be used during the day (downtime) to pick up those who have appointments at the doctors surgery, need to do some shopping, need to get to hospital appointments, socialise with lunch clubs or daytime outings. The minibus can then do the school hometime run and later in the evening be used to bring commuters back and also children who might have attended after school activities. It could also take people to their evening/night shift jobs.

—  NYCC officers appear unwilling or unable to provide members with all the relevant facts when it comes to making cost saving decisions. The only option looked at for savings on bus subsidies was to remove subsidies on all evening, weekend and Bank Holiday services. The fact that some daytime services were receiving larger subsidies than some evening services was conveniently overlooked. The officers also appear not to understand that not everyone only works between the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday -Friday. This was borne out by questioning of an NYCC officer at TSC 22nd March 2011.

(8)  Public and Community Transport is the key to vibrant communities and with reliable services leads to more tourists coming to the area, without their cars, and businesses being willing to invest in the area because they would not need to worry about how their staff would get in to work. Not everything can be done by computer! A good integrated transport system, using service buses, CT and train services would help reduce Carbon emissions in the N Yorks region, would bring in tourists, whose spending would support the local economy and would improve the quality of life for the many isolated communities in the region. When the travelling public see that there is a reliable alternative to travelling by car they will switch. The key word is reliable. Subsidies introduced for a year or two and then withdrawn, cannot give reliability. It takes time and a lot of effort for services to develop. Inevitably, subsidies will be high in the beginning, but as more people use the local transport services and feel confident that they can rely on them, so the passenger numbers will increase and subsidies will reduce. It is however a fallacy that subsidies will never be needed in rural areas.

—  Over the years NYCC has received £millions in grants, supposedly for transport. There seems to be very little to show for it. NYCC have bought vehicles for their Integrated Unit which are not being used efficiently. Drivers fail to turn out in bad weather and do not know the communities that they serve. In spite of LRB having a very good scheduling system, which they have been willing to share with NYCC in the past, officers seem determined to have their own in house scheduling system, at great cost, which would seem to duplicate what already exists.

(9)  NYCC produced its LTP in October 2010, the LSTF was mentioned. Along with many others, I became involved with the Dales Integrated Transport Alliance, in preparing a bid for the fund. We had to liaise with NYCC ITPU officials who in my opinion were certainly not very supportive. We saw the fund as a big opportunity to improve transport in the very rural county of N Yorks. NYCC did not bother to inform the seven District Councils in N Yorks about the LSTF fund until mid February 2011, and suggested that Councils send in bids by 25 March 2011, which would, if deemed acceptable by NYCC, be put forward into tranche 2 of LSTF. (Funds not available until mid 2012)

—  A member of the public at Ryedale District council meeting asked why the LSTF was not on the Agenda, since surely all Councils could use some funding for transport initiatives. The response was that there wasn't time to prepare a bid and so there was no point in mentioning the fund!

If NYCC genuinely wanted to provide the best service for their Council tax payers, they surely should have informed the District Councils back in October 2010 that the LSTF fund would soon be available and perhaps "Districts would like to start thinking of ideas for bids", so that they would be ready when the criteria for funding were known. Instead they "sat on their hands" and "took the easy way out and did nothing". As a result, as far as I am aware, only the DITA bid will be ready for the first tranche of funding. Once again the taxpayers will miss out on funding to improve transport in their region.

No doubt if there had been any bid criteria for the £10 million of CT funding recently awarded, we in N Yorks would have gone without yet again!

(10)  NYCC, as part of its Service Centre Transportation Strategy, recently announced plans to reroute the A61 away from the centre of Harrogate, at a cost of some £800,000 minimum. There has been a tidal wave of letters to the local press against the proposal. I find it very perverse that NYCC Transport cannot come up with suitable schemes for CT/improved local transport for LSTF bid, yet can produce a transport scheme that nobody wants. Until NYCC stop thinking in their silos and look at Transport as a whole, we will never achieve an integrated, more environmentally friendly and cost effective transport system in N Yorks.

In summing up, as a mere council tax payer, I strongly believe that Community Transport providers are far better placed and more willing to take note of what their communities want. A major overhaul of how funding for transport schemes is disbursed is long overdue. There seem to be too many different pots of money, each with their own criteria. To work well, Transport needs to be integrated and therefore those delivering the services need to think in more creative ways. There seems to be plenty of will, problem solvers and people ready to take action amongst the local communities, The Big Society, but all their efforts seem to be severely hampered by funding going to the top, where those "in charge" seem unwilling or unable to commence a dialogue with service users and be open to new ideas. Consequently bus users in North Yorkshire have been severely and unnecessarily disadvantaged by a system that is clearly not fit for purpose.

I sincerely hope that Transport users in North Yorkshire and transport providers will see some life changing improvements over the coming months to their rural bus services. With a little co-operation from the "powers that be" we could all enjoy a much better integrated service that actually gives value for money and reduces CO2 emissions.

April 2011

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