Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line (FoSCL) (BUS 109)

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line (FoSCL) is the rail user group which promotes the Settle-Carlisle (S&C) railway. Its roots are in the pressure group formed to save the line from closure in the 1980's but FoSCL now works in partnership with the railway authorities and local statutory and voluntary bodies to promote the entire S&C corridor which runs through the western side of North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

FoSCL has 3,500 members and it provides on Train Guides for tourists; works with the Settle Carlisle Development Company to provide a catering trolley with locally sourced products; works with the Development Company, Settle Carlisle Trust, Network Rail and Northern Rail to preserve and improve station facilities; organises 100 guided walks per annum to encourage rail use by walkers and gives financial support to connecting weekend bus services from remote stations such as Ribblehead to nearby villages and Dales. Through its quarterly magazine and website, FoSCL promotes local bus links and bus timetables are available in station waiting rooms throughout the line.

IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL BUS SERVICES

These services are vital for:

—  (1)  Local residents to access the S&C line through their "local station" which may be up to eight miles away in order to visit hospitals; shopping centres; friends; relatives; college; university.

—  (2)  Visitors by train to access local facilities including accommodation; tourist attractions; historic sites; cafes; pubs; shops all of which are often beyond walking distance of their "local station" especially if encumbered by luggage or affected by limited mobility.

Day visitors use the S&C to visit the Western Dales from a wide area including West Yorkshire; south Yorkshire; Lancashire; Greater Manchester; East Midlands; North Cumbria whilst the area attracts overnight visitors by train from all corners of the globe; overseas visitors do not wish to negotiate the narrow twisting Dales roads in a hire car.

The income generated by visitors to the Dales is vital for the economic viability of the local communities and using the S&C together with local bus services makes many remoter areas more accessible whilst reducing congestion, pollution and car parking problems.

Without the buses, many villages and tourist attractions would only be accessible by car or by long distance hikers. In 2010, FoSCL evaluated all connecting bus services and found over 60 villages and tourist attractions accessible by a short bus ride (less than 10 miles) from S&C rail stations.

Bus links to existing train services are extremely efficient in terms of reducing carbon emissions and pollution thus helping the government to achieve its aim of a low carbon economy.

AFFECT OF RECENT CHANGES IN NORTH YORKSHIRE

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has withdrawn support from all Sunday and evening bus services from April 2011 despite widespread opposition to these proposals. This means that the only Sunday and evening bus services now operating in North Yorkshire are limited commercial services in major towns such as Harrogate; Summer Sunday MoorsBus services in the North York Moors National Park funded by the NYMNPA and DalesBus Sunday services in the Dales managed by the third sector Dales & Bowland Community Interest Company (DBCIC).

DBCIC is a voluntary body and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Yorkshire Dales Society in conjunction with the Yorkshire Dales Public Transport User Group which has generated 30% year on year growth in passenger numbers since taking over the DalesBus network in 2008. DBCIC has tapped a variety of funding sources including FoSCL, National Trust, CPRE, tourist attractions and Northern Rail in addition to support from Metro (WYITA), YDNPA, Nidderdale AONB (and NYCC pre April 2011).

NYCC has also reduced support for many weekday services leading to a reduction in the Garsdale to Hawes minibus and the reduction of the Skipton - Bolton Abbey-Harrogate service from five return journeys per day to just two and omission of the deviation towards Bolton Abbey (a popular international tourist attraction). Indeed the Garsdale-Hawes link only survives due to the formation of the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership but the new minibus will only accommodate eight passengers and midday journeys are now demand responsive. (Hawes is seven miles from Garsdale Station and is the market town for Upper Wensleydale and a major tourist attraction)

The Malham Tarn Shuttle service between Settle and Malham will only operate on Sundays this year (managed by DBCIC with National Trust support) so there will be no Saturday service between Settle and Malham leading to further overcrowding (and passengers stranded) on the inadequate NYCC supported service from Skipton to Malham. (Malham is a major tourist honeypot eight miles from Settle and 11 miles from Skipton).

Cumbria County Council has withdrawn funding from the only bus service connecting Dent station with Dent Village and Sedbergh; FoSCL is currently negotiating with the Dent Community to provide a summer replacement service. (Dent Station is five miles from Dent Village with a very steep hill to the station).

The replacement service for the previously NYCC supported Sunday bus service from Skipton to Grassington no longer serves Skipton Station making it unattractive to rail users - the Bus Station is 10 minutes walk away and some connections are now impossible. Forthcoming changes to the Settle-Slaidburn-Clitheroe service threaten to sever connections with the S&C to and from Lancashire whilst it is uncertain where the additional £150k savings in NYCC's Craven area bus budget will be found.

FREE TRAVEL FOR ELDERLY AND DISABLED PEOPLE

This concession was framed with urban areas in mind where there is excess capacity to be filled and operators are pleased to fill these empty seats by carrying pass holders at low rates (often <50% of the adult fare). However in rural areas where frequencies are sparse and limited capacity buses are used it is leading to the loss of vital bus services as the reduced income for carrying concessionary passengers results in the subsidy per passenger journey increasing as the increased usage does not compensate for the lost income. This is due to limited capacity vehicles (with no standees allowed) and a finite potential market; if a bus service only runs once a week, a Free Pass will not encourage existing passengers to travel twice a week.

There is no evidence that the cost of bus travel was a major barrier to elderly passengers using rural services in the Dales and many passengers are now asking for passes to be prohibited so that everyone pays and the bus service becomes more viable. The real barriers to using rural buses are frequency, reliability, hours/days of operation and destinations served together with a fear that the bus service may be withdrawn in the near future; many young people rely on bus services to access employment in tourist related businesses or to get to the station to access Further and Higher Education by train. A Free Pass is of no use if there are no suitable (or even unsuitable) bus services to use it on whilst elderly people on the lowest incomes should receive additional financial benefits which they can choose how to spend.

Free Travel is a distinct disincentive to commercial bus operation in rural areas as even a full bus may not be profitable if 75% of passengers are pass holders with reimbursement rates as low as 40% on some longer routes. The only commercial bus service linking with the S&C is the parallel Settle to Skipton route which probably abstracts revenue from the S&C (although there is no evening or Sunday service and the Saturday service is now only two hourly).

PASSENGER CONSULTATION OVER CHANGES

Whilst NYCC had a public consultation over its Sunday and evening cuts it appeared to ignore the protests and suggested alternatives put forward by many individuals and bodies, and all services on the "consultation list" were terminated with the minimum eight weeks notice given to passengers and operators. Cumbria CC imposed its cuts with little consultation or warning; the operator of the Dent service received eight weeks notice with no warning.

Cuts to weekday NYCC services have received very little publicity with most passengers being unaware of impending cuts until operators displayed notices or new timetables on buses.

This is in contrast to proposed changes to rail services which receive extensive publicity over a period of several months and formal consultation with passenger groups and local councils often accompanied by public meetings and exhibitions.

FoSCL has sent formal responses to NYCC Consultations and written to Cumbria CC concerning bus links from Dent and Kirkby Stephen Stations. NYCC has not engaged with FoSCL in any way although Cumbria CC did invite FoSCL and representatives of the Dent community to discuss the Dent bus although they were unwilling to continue the service for even a few weeks to allow a rescue package to be formulated.

An area of concern to FoSCL is that local authorities either rely upon patronage data provided by operators or undertake a very small sample survey. By close observation of services FoSCL are aware of undercounting of passengers when ticket machines are not used; non-recording of concessionary passes; return tickets being cancelled by tearing up with no entry on the ticket machine; "Rover Ticket" holders not being recorded on the ticket machine. FoSCL stresses that all cash transactions are diligently recorded and perceives that such activities have had negligible effect in the past but are now critical when local authorities are withdrawing services based upon subsidy per passenger journey.

FoSCL recommends that whilst the registration period of eight weeks for new bus services or minor changes to existing services is reasonable, operators and local authorities should be required to give a minimum of 13 weeks notice to withdraw a service or impose major changes such as the withdrawal of Sunday or evening services. This would give a "window of opportunity" for a replacement service to be procured either commercially or using alternative funding without recourse to "special registrations" and also permit adequate time to publicise the changes and new timetables.

FoSCL also recommends that changes to bus services should be restricted to the December and May rail timetable change dates together with an additional date in September to correspond with the start of the new academic year which often has implications for bus services. This policy is already adopted in some European countries. If this is considered too restrictive for commercial urban bus services, it should be possible to implement it for all tendered services (which will cover most rural routes). This would have the added benefit of allowing train operators to publicise connecting bus links in their timetable leaflets without the risk of these services being altered/withdrawn during the currency of the rail timetable.

April 2011



 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 11 August 2011