The Chairman invited Mr Bill Breakell to make a statement.
Mr Bill Breakell made the following statement.
“I realise that the report covers historic issues and some matters beyond the County Council’s control, nevertheless there are many points that require major change and urgent policy revision.
Rural bus services must be better recognised by the county council as an essential part of rural life, and as a basic human right. Community Transport and Demand Responsive Transport cannot substitute for clear, timetabled bus services with the capacity to be accessible to all and to cope with volatile demand.
There is no mention that public transport helps to meet environmental aims, only that it has social and economic benefits.
There is no mention that NYCC should integrate policies and practices so that all highways schemes create greatly improved facilities for buses and their passengers. Infrastructure is urgently required (bus shelters, bus boarders, bus priority measures, longer bus laybys to encourage connectivity from one bus to another). In addition, there is no consistency in timetable information around North Yorkshire, so the county council should post integrated timetable information at bus stops, as do other authorities, in order to maintain accurate and timely information.
Paragraph 3.2.4 [of the report] states three ‘service standards’ for Local Bus Service support. These seem to summarise the approach of the County Council towards bus services in that each service standard is a negative.
Section 4.2 [of the report] on external funding fails to explain how the county council writes bids or allocates funding. This leads to poor support from others involved in providing, promoting or using public transport. The only positive section in the report is the statement from the York and North Yorkshire devolution proposal which would see a very different approach to supporting public transport in the area.
Paragraph 4.3 reports a Demand Responsive Transport proposal, including the phrase ‘innovative solution.’ Research into Demand Responsive Transport [DRT] shows that almost all schemes have failed to fulfil their aims and most schemes do not last beyond their pilot phase. Highly acclaimed transport academics and transport practitioners almost all suggest that DRT is fundamentally flawed and DRT as envisaged for North Yorkshire would not serve those with wheelchairs, pushchairs or shopping trolleys, or visitors to rural areas. Independent costings for one of the North Yorkshire proposals put a figure of up to £29 as the subsidy required per passenger. What the public ‘demands’ is a frequent and reliable timetabled service with capacity for all types of users. This is fundamental to providing a step change to North Yorkshire: the CPRE report Every Village, Every Hour has won much praise and denounces DRT as not of meeting rural transport needs.
The council must recognise the visitor economy which, in the two National Parks alone generates over £1.1 billion for the local economy, and 13 million visitors. These are important public transport and equality opportunities for North Yorkshire.
The section on the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (4.4) fails to acknowledge that low reimbursement rates to bus operators has led directly to several local operators ceasing to trade.
In summary, the report suggests to me that there is still a lack of direction in how England’s largest county can help its communities and visitors travel with confidence, equality and a clean environmental conscience. A basic human right?”
The Chairman thanked Mr Breakell for his statement.
The written report of the Corporate Director - Business and Environmental providing an update report on road passenger related rural transport in the county including funding, policy and strategy.
Catherine Price and Michael Leah presented the report.
Catherine Price set out North Yorkshire County Council’s strategic responsibilities in relation to securing the provision of public transport where appropriate and to have general policies in relation to how services were secured. In terms of policy and strategy, the council fulfilled its local bus service duties through a combination of strategy, policy and procedure and its Local Transport Plan set out what its strategic objectives were for public transport.
In 2015/16, the decision was taken by the council to reduce its level of bus subsidy. Since that time, the funding for public transport had largely remained the same. The council was no longer able to subsidise evening or Sunday services.
During 2020/21, the council had provided financial support to 85 local bus services through contractual arrangements with 18 operators, as detailed in Appendix One.
Catherine Price went on to note that throughout the last 12 months, staff in North Yorkshire County Council’s Integrated Passenger Transport Unit team had worked with operators, in relation to school and public transport, to keep them afloat, arising from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The county council had continued to provide bus operators with payments for both home to school transport and public transport providers. In addition to the contractual payments made, the council had continued to reimburse operators in relation to concessionary fares based upon pre-pandemic levels.
The COVID-19 Bus Support Grant provided by the Department for Transport (DfT), had allowed the county council to provide support payments to contractors in relation to lost revenue. As the recovery was going to take some time, the county council continued to hold discussions with the key operators. The county council had received a share of the DfT’s Better Deal for Bus Users funding announced in February 2020. Following the pandemic, the DfT had subsequently advised local authorities to maintain the network rather than for the purpose that it was originally intended. The county council had not been successful in receiving funding in relation to the Rural Mobility fund, as detailed further in the report.
Catherine Price went on to refer to the devolution proposal submitted by North Yorkshire County Council for the creation of a unitary county local authority, and in particular, the two elements relating to passenger transport. This included substantial funding for the transition to zero exhaust emissions on public transport and for pump priming new services.
She went on to refer to the demand responsive bus service to be put in place in the Ripon area on a trial basis for 12 months. This would involve sharing vehicles and varying their routes in response to demand, rather than having a fixed timetable. An overview would be provided to the committee at its mid-cycle briefing on 1 June 2021.
Catherine Price went on to refer to the concessionary fares scheme and noted that in North Yorkshire the county council went beyond the minimum requirements set out in the national scheme. This included using discretionary powers to allow concessionary bus passes to be used over a wider period during the day and to allow companion passes for people who required somebody to travel with them.
She went on to refer to community transport and the car schemes in operation in the county. They remained very important aspects of the transport network in terms of providing access to services. The county council provided funding for both, as detailed in the report.
Michael Leah said that he wished to respond to the points raised by Mr Breakell in his statement. He noted that Mr Breakell’s statement acknowledged that the report was retrospective and that some of the points raised in the statement were for national consideration rather than local. Bus services in the county were now at the potential cusp of wholescale change in the way that they were funded and operated because of the national bus strategy. He added that staff in North Yorkshire County Council’s Integrated Passenger Transport team would be happy to speak to individuals to better understand their local needs when considering the national bus strategy to see if they could work together with communities to help unlock any issues or remedy any problems that they have in those areas.
He said that in terms of the background, it was important to be aware of the fact that the county council’s budget and spending power had reduced by over a third over the course of the last decade and that the bus subsidy had not been able to be immune from that. The role of officers had been to secure best value and provide the best possible transport service to all communities across North Yorkshire against the backdrop of reductions to the bus subsidy. Demand for services had outstripped the funding that was available, which inevitably meant that some communities felt like they did not get the service that they would like.
He underlined the county council’s commitment shown over the last 12 months to providing financial support to bus operators to enable them to remain in business. He also referred to the demand responsive bus pilot in the Ripon area and clarified, in response to Mr Breakell’s statement, that it was the county council’s intention to ensure that the pilot would cater for wheelchair users.
Members made the following key statements:
Councillor Paul Haslam said he welcomed Mr Breakell’s comments and they would
be useful in anything that the council looked at in terms of implementing the government’s Bus Back Better strategy. It was important that the Transport, Economy and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee had sight of the final submission to government about whether a partnership approach or a franchise model would be chosen.
Michael Leah replied that the Executive would make the final decision but in advance Members would be engaged as far as possible to seek further input. Part of the requirements of the submission to government included putting together a bus service improvement plan, with the aim being to increase patronage in transport in the county. He went on to provide an example and the work that had already been undertaken with commercial operators during the last few years about future planning of services.
County Councillor Paul Haslam mentioned that one of the aspects of the North/South divide was that the same length of journey in London was in the region of three to four times cheaper that it was anywhere in in the North of England. That was because bus passengers had to pay separate fares when changing services to complete a journey especially when it was with a different bus company. He asked for consideration to be made of introducing an Oyster card or its equivalent in North Yorkshire so that people could pay a single ‘pay as you go’ fare across a number of different bus services.
That the Committee notes the information in the report.