Plan to revolutionise public transport in North Yorkshire to be discussed next week
North Yorkshire County Council which has been regularly criticised in recent years over the scope of its efforts to provide public transport in rural areas, will next week consider a revised set of objectives to underpin a bid for a share in the government's "£3bn bus revolution".
The government has told all local authorities to publish a Bus Service Improvement Plan before November, which crucially for North Yorkshire, must cover the council's full area.
The plans must detail strategies to increase bus use, targets for journey times and reliability improvements, as well as identify where bus priority measures are needed, pressures on the road network, air quality issues and carbon reduction targets.
The council will also have to commit to a Bus Passenger Charter setting out what passengers can expect from bus operators in the improvement plan, which is likely to used to help determine the share of the Government’s £3bn investment in buses.
A report to the council's executive states the authority aims to forge enhanced partnerships, an agreement between it and bus operators to work together to improve bus services.
While the council has been accused of leaving some villagers stranded after withdrawing subsidies and services, the report states the council's new vision aims to "address the needs of passengers in areas which struggle to support commercial bus services, ensure this is integrated with a modern supported network of services".
The vision states the bus services will feature simple payment and ticketing options across a network of punctual and reliable commercial services "to give customers the confidence that the bus will turn up and get them to their intended destination in the time expected".
Councillor Don Mackenzie, the authority'sexecutive member for access, rejected suggestions the wide-ranging vision represented a sea change for the authority in terms of ambition.
He said: "I think we already have very close and efficient relationships with our bus operators. Some 85 per cent of our bus services in the county are fully commercialised. We are very excited about the prospects of enhanced partnerships because that was the direction we were going in anyway.
"In Harrogate we're looking at park and ride, which will involve a bus contract, and we're looking at bus priority systems such as bus lanes. So the National Bus Strategy just gives us an extra incentive to press on.
"We would be totally supportive of avoidance of the motor car and reliance upon public transport, whether that is road or rail or sustainable transport with a bit more walking and cycling."
Coun Mackenzie said while the authority was already investing £1.5m a year into subsidising rural bus services that are commercially unviable, that funding could help solve many more issues across the county if the demand reponsiive bus service pilot scheme starting next month in the Ripon, Masham and Bedale area is successful.
He added the council would strive to cut the emissions on buses where possible. Cllr Mackenzie said: "There is a prototype in Harrogate I would like to see spread out as far into the county as it possibly can be.
"Admittedly, with the great distances some of our rural bus journeys would involve, I don't think batteries are quite able yet to take a bus right into deeply rural areas, but it is an aspiration for the future. "