North Yorkshire looks to volunteers amid bus service cuts proposal

tis. Harrogate bus station. GS1405082a.
tis. Harrogate bus station. GS1405082a.
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North Yorkshire residents are facing the prospect of reduced or cancelled bus services after the county council proposed cutting £500,000 from their public transport budget.

This is the latest cut the county council has made to subsiding bus services after they reduced their public transport spending by £2m every year in April 2014.

However, in a bid to find further savings of £75m by 2019, North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is proposing to reduce the amount they spend on subsiding local bus services to £1.5m every year.

In a bid to avoid ‘rural isolation’ the council have launched a consultation on proposals to find alternative transport options for affected areas.

These include (NYCC) operating the services themselves using their own fleet of mini buses and making the best use of community transport using volunteer drivers.

However, the director of Harrogate-based charity Supporting Older People, Kate Rogata, raised concerns about the level of responsibility on volunteers and also the impact on vulnerable residents.

She said: “Harrogate is a big district and particularly in the rural areas, people rely on their bus services and another cut to these services will make them more isolated.

“There is an idea to recruit voluntary drivers but we know how difficult that is, our numbers are already diminishing.

“It’s a great responsibility to put on volunteers, we have a very dedicated pool but they are getting older and they are harder to replace.

“When you volunteer you are not being paid and you just fit it in with other areas of your life and you are not always available for passengers. It’s not like having a dedicated bus service.”

Karen Weaver, chief executive of Harrogate and Ripon CVS said that they currently have 32 voluntary car drivers on their books in Ripon who do an average of 26 hours per week of volunteering.

They are now hoping to recruit an additional 30 drivers to cover Harrogate and Knaresborough and are aiming to reach 4000 journeys in total by December 2016.

Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for integrated passenger transport, admitted he was concerned by social isolation but said the council needed to ‘face up to the reality’ of the economic climate.

He said: “We want to understand how the bus services are being used and it may well be there are more efficient and effective ways of providing transport in those rural areas

“It is a big responsibility on volunteers but we are willing to provide a car for that service which will provide transport on a person to person basis and a door to door basis.

“There will be more reliance on the voluntary community anyway not just for buses but all services, it’s part of our 2020 vision on how we run services in a time of reduction.

“I understand the problem of loneliness and isolation but we have to face up to reality. We will have less money so in order to get better value for money we have to look at alternatives.”