Managers of a community travel organisation operating across Ryedale in North Yorkshire are looking to tailor the service to passengers’ needs after many communities in the district have been left without regular bus services.
Ryedale Community Transport is set to introduce a pre-booking service for passengers to reserve a seat on its fleet of vehicles, which is serving the 575 square miles of the district.
The organisation’s spokesman, Ken Gill, said: “We take over where public transport stops. The moors are a wonderful place to live until you cannot drive, and then you realise how difficult living in a rural area can be. We plug that gap.”
Some remote villages in Ryedale have hugely limited public transport linked with only a weekly bus service, creating a void for those needing to attend appointments on other days.
However, Ryedale Community Transport has evolved into a major transport provider, operating accessible minibuses and vehicles designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
A “wheels to work” scheme has also been launched which provides scooters for predominantly young people who would otherwise struggle to commute after finding jobs.
A new award of £200,000 from the National Lottery will allow the organisation to expand its services over the next five years to provide a network of flexible routes, which will operate under the name of Ryedale Rovers.
It is hoped that by developing a service tailored to Ryedale’s communities, it will carry enough passengers to operate on its own turnover by the end of the five-year period.
The organisation was put under pressure by the coronavirus pandemic which saw income from services provided for other organisations dramatically reduce as lockdown restrictions took hold.
Ryedale Community Transport was left with a £60,000 shortfall for the past year, although the deficit has been overcome through successful grant applications.
The community transport organisation provides services for about 800 people, using a fleet of 13 vehicles and volunteers’ own cars, with an additional 23 mopeds available.
The value of the service, which has about 80 volunteers, has been recognised by North Yorkshire County Council, which has awarded three-quarters of the cost of a new bus for the service.
The overall cost for the specialist vehicle is more than £80,000, and it is being built to a bespoke low-floor design which is capable of carrying up to four wheelchair users.
The county council is supporting the organisation’s operations through initiatives such as ‘capped’ fares, which means passengers facing long trips to hospital will pay no more than £20, with the authority making up the remainder.
Sue Allerton, of Malton, is among the users of Ryedale Community Transport and needs assistance with 25-mile journeys for hospital appointments.
She is reliant on a wheelchair but does not qualify for NHS patient transport and would be unable to attend appointments, sometimes more than once a week, without the organisation’s volunteers.
She said: “They pick me up and are always very helpful. Without them, I would not be able to get to hospital. I get a great deal out of the service.”
Although she has spent a year isolating because of Covid-19, she is also looking forward to the return of social trips to destinations including Whitby and Harrogate.
“They are places I would not have got to otherwise and I really enjoyed the drives out, so I hope they come back after lockdown,” she said.
Ryedale is the second most sparsely populated district in England, with just 36 people per square kilometre. Eden in Cumbria is the most sparsely populated district with 25 people per square kilometre.