Dales bus ‘could be model for rural transport’

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A PIONEERING bus network has witnessed a surge in passenger numbers amid plans to attract a wave of new visitors to supplement the multi-million pound tourism sector in the Yorkshire Dales.

The DalesBus project, which is the first scheme of its kind in the country, is introducing new routes from the Easter weekend in a bid to bring in an increasingly diverse range of tourists.

Services are being run via Catterick Garrison to transport the families of military personnel into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, while buses are also being operated across the other side of the Pennines in Lancashire for the first time.

Work is also continuing to transport communities from inner city areas of Leeds and Bradford via the expanded bus services to allow them to experience the Dales.

The Yorkshire Post can reveal the public transport initiative has seen a record number of passengers in the last 12 months despite the dire weather throughout 2012.

Senior officials have urged the Government to use the project as a model for similar schemes to be rolled out nationwide to boost bus links and reduce the reliance on cars in deeply rural areas which have been particularly badly hit by soaring fuel prices.

The managing director of the social enterprise that runs the DalesBus services, Colin Speakman, claimed the network is meeting key aims set out by Ministers including encouraging a healthy outdoor activity in the countryside, boosting the rural economy and reducing carbon emissions by slashing car use.

Dr Speakman, who is also the Yorkshire Dales Society’s chairman, said: “This is a pioneering model that Government will surely wish to roll out elsewhere, in other regions of the UK, especially in our precious national parks and other protected landscapes where visitors are so essential to help sustain the local economy.

“It is up to Government, both local and national, to continue to support and help sustain our work from 2014 onwards, but in the meantime for summer 2013 DalesBus will be the best network ever.

“The more people use the services, the more fare box income we generate and less we have to depend on financial support whether from the taxpayer, voluntary or private sources.”

Dr Speakman claimed the DalesBus scheme, which is operated by the Dales and Bowland Community Interest Company (CIC), is alleviating the intense pressures on the public purse and offers “outstanding value for money”.

While the bus network is given less than 20 per cent of the total £1.1m Local Sustainable Transport Fund allocated to the Yorkshire Dales, it is used by tens of thousands of passengers.

The latest figures released to the Yorkshire Post have revealed a record 45,200 passenger journeys have taken place on the DalesBus services throughout the 2012/13 financial year, a 12 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

But despite the successes, there is still uncertainty over the future of the DalesBus operations. The Yorkshire Post revealed last month that senior officials had warned the scheme is “teetering on a knife edge” as funding is expected to fall by as much as two-thirds.

The service is expected to remain unaffected in the new financial year, but Dr Speakman admitted he expects funding could fall by more than 60 per cent in the spring of 2014 as finance streams dry up amid the Government’s cuts.

While the DalesBus operates on a budget of just £90,000 with a 40-strong team of volunteers, the relatively small amounts of money involved mean there is 
little scope for making efficiencies.