OLDER PASSENGERS would be prepared to pay half of their bus fare if it meant safeguarding threatened services in North Yorkshire’s rural heartlands, a leading Tory peer has claimed.
Baroness McIntosh, the former Thirsk and Malton MP, made the suggestion in a House of Lords debate as Ministers come under pressure to make additional funding available for threatened routes in areas like the Yorkshire Dales.
Only a successful crowdfunding campaign spared the Wensleydale Flyer, which runs on Sundays and Bank Holidays between Hawes and Northallerton, from the axe – and similar services remain under threat.
Earlier this month, the Local Government Association said that councils could no longer afford to subsidise free bus travel on off-peak services for the over-65s and disabled.
It warned that pensioners faced the prospect of having free passes – and no buses – unless Ministers faced up to the scale of the funding crisis.
However Baroness McIntosh, who chaired the influential environment committee in the last Parliament, believes Ministers should make it possible for senior citizens to make a financial contribution if they have the means to do so.
“Older people in North Yorkshire would willingly do so – in fact, they would be willing to pay up to half the cost of the fare. What would be the point of offering concessionary fares with no services to provide them?” she told the House of Lords.
“The key to sustainable transport in rural areas is access to regular, reliable bus services for the very old, the very young and the most vulnerable. There is often no alternative – people may have no car or be too frail to drive. Bus services can enable these very vulnerable people to access vital services, such as schools, hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and dentists, and can ease the feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“For me, the game-changer would be one simple thing: to keep concessionary fares on rural bus services but allow those eligible to pay a contribution.”
Baroness McIntosh challenged Ministers to acknowledge the increased cost of providing services in rural communities. “It goes wider than transport alone; to have a sustainable rural economy and to enjoy living well in rural communities we must have access to fast, reliable broadband and mobile phone and internet networks,” she added. “I recognise that the cost of providing services in rural communities is higher than in urban areas. The costs of transporting children to schools and patients to hospitals, running police vehicles and other such things are much greater than in urban areas. I make a plea to Ministers that we should recognise these additional costs and include a rurality and sparsity factor, as we have done increasingly in education funding.”
Comment: Page 14.