‘Beeching of the buses’ fears as rural areas take brunt of cuts

Could the Little White Bus be a solution to the crisis facing bus services in rural communities?
Could the Little White Bus be a solution to the crisis facing bus services in rural communities?
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MORE bus services have been cut in North Yorkshire than anywhere else in the country in the past year, a new report into the crisis facing buses has revealed.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) says half of local authorities have slashed funding for buses, with over £9m support for services wiped off this financial year.

Rural authorities have suffered the worst with average budget reductions of 19 per cent.

North Yorkshire has axed 90 services this financial year, followed by Cumbria, 60, Herefordshire, 44 and Dorset, 42, according to figures based on freedom of information requests by the CBT, which says Yorkshire and the Humber was the worst affected region.

The CBT’s North and West Yorkshire Group has already warned Yorkshire faces a “Beeching of the Buses”, akin to the infamous 1960s axeing of thousands of miles of railway, and forecast that by 2016 the Dales and Moors could lose all scheduled bus services.

Since 2010, the CBT says, council funding for bus services has been slashed by £44m, or 15 per cent, with more than 2,000 routes cut or withdrawn. Derbyshire Country Council is currently proposing more than £2.5m cuts which could include bus routes through the Derbyshire Dales constituency of Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

CBT campaigner Martin Abrams said: “The Government must wake up to the crisis facing buses. Across the country, bus services are being lost at an alarming rate. Year-on-year cuts to budgets mean entire networks have now disappeared, leaving many communities with little public transport and in some cases none at all.

“It’s very worrying that further steep cuts in budgets are threatened next year and beyond. The challenge for this and future Governments is to secure investment in buses and ensure rescue efforts won’t be too little too late.”

This year 22 local authorities have slashed over 10 per cent from their bus funding, including East Riding Council. Another seven now don’t spend anything on supporting bus services.

Richmondshire council leader John Blackie, who in 2011 set up Little White Bus, a not-for-profit, community-run bus service operating out of Hawes, which relies on volunteers, expects whichever Government is elected in May to make even harsher cuts. He urged other threatened communities to follow the example of Little White Bus, which now runs three services and will take on a new one in April.

He said: “It relies on some subsidy, on the council providing a bus and some expertise to run services - there’s quite a lot of legality, but they are prepared to do that. It’s now up to communities that feel threatened to embrace these ideas and demonstrate a measure of the self-reliance as we do in the Dales.”

Joe Vinson, the National Union of Students’ further education vice president, said: “It’s incredibly worrying to see these cuts being made to transport services. The cost of travel can be the difference between making it to college or not, particularly for students from lower-income backgrounds and those living in rural areas.”

The Department of Transport said the Government provided “substantial funding, protected until 2015/16, to bus operators to help more services run and keep ticket prices down.”