A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council's transport, economy and environment scrutiny committee was told while rural areas in the county desperately needed solutions to enable safe active travel such as walking and cycling, residents outside towns had little option but to use cars due to a lack of bus services.
Responding to a long-awaited report by the authority's officers on rural transport provision in the county, resident Bill Bracknell told members the only positive section of the document was where it highlighted how the North Yorkshire and York devolution proposal called for fresh approach to supporting public transport.However, he said there were numerous opportunities for the council to take action, such as integrating policies and practices so all new schemes create improved facilities for buses and their passengers, such as bus shelters and longer bus stops to encourage connections between local bus services.
Mr Bracknell said to encourage take-up of services, the council could simply post integrated timetable information at bus stops.
He said: "Rural transport is a basic human right and a social equity issue. Community transport and demand responsive transport can't substitute for clear, timetabled bus services with the capacity to be accessible to all and to cope with volatile demand."
While the council's leadership has recently suggested demand-responsive transport could help resolve the lack of public transport in rural areas, Mr Bracknell said experts had concluded such systems were flawed and could lead to huge subsidies per passenger.
He added: "There is still a lack of direction in how England's largest county can help its communities and visitors to travel with confidence, equality and a clean environmental conscience. I still think it's a fundamental human right to have substantial and sustainable transport in our rural areas."
In response, officers told the meeting the council had provided financial support to 85 local bus services with 18 operators last year and that the authority was committed to ensuring as many communities as possible had access to public transport while balancing available budgets.
Officers said as part of a drive to provide innovative solutions a new digital demand responsive service would be launched in the summer in the Ripon area for a trial period, anticipated to be 12 months. Councillors heard transport would be shared with other services and vehicles would vary their routes based on demand rather than using a fixed route or timetable.
Alongside this members were told the council supported 15 voluntary car schemes as well as six Dial-a-Ride schemes run by voluntary organisations, which during 2019/20 saw a combined 103,000 journeys made.
Nevertheless, officers said it remained unclear how the national bus strategy would affect bus service provision in North Yorkshire, where demand continued to outstrip the available funding for public transport, leaving some communities feeling left out.