VICTORIA Benn from the charity, Friends of the Dales looks at the importance of building an effective bus network.

Did you hear the one about a council that pledged to get everybody out of their cars and onto public transport? It reduced its funding so that most rural services could only run once every two hours at most and in some places not at all.

Okay, not funny. However, nor is it funny that the bus services in and out of the Yorkshire Dales do not operate with a frequency or timetable that enables people without a car to actually commute for work or study, never mind travel for leisure and tourism.

This situation also disproportionately affects young people and is one of the key socio-economic factors preventing them from living and/or working in the Dales. It also makes a mockery of North Yorkshire Council’s stated aim of reducing emissions and achieving “net carbon neutrality by 2030, or as near to that date as possible.”

At Friends of the Dales we are working with a group of young people, aged 20-30, known as 'Creative Campaigners'. In addition to supporting them as volunteers on campaigns for environmental issues close to their own hearts, we have also been engaging them in our campaigns – such as Living Access, which advocates for sustainable transport in and out of the Dales for all sections of society.

Joining us for a fact-finding bus journey from Skipton to Grassington at a recent weekend, one of the Creative Campaigners, a seasoned user of public transport from West Yorkshire, said: “I used to work in the Dales a few of years ago and initially I could arrive by train to Skipton and get a bus that would take me into Grassington for 9am.

"When the Grassington service was drastically reduced to one bus each way every two hours this became impossible and I started to have to rely on other staff to collect me from Skipton and take me – which was utterly untenable as a long term solution.”

The current bus timetable to Grassington offers a bus from Skipton (Monday to Saturday) at 7.30am and 9.30am and so on, every two hours until the last bus at 5.30pm. The limitations for employees and businesses of such underfunded scheduling are obvious. Worse is the situation at Malham where there are just two services offered per day Monday to Friday with the last one in either direction being at lunchtime!

Another Creative Campaigner added: “I have a busy and active social life, but can’t access events in the Dales – even though I know there’s a lot of excellent live music, theatre and other events happening, because there’s no way I could attend by public transport.”

Our Living Access campaign entails us fully supporting the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s published aim of making the case to local transport authorities and government for the delivery of a sustainable transport framework and services for the Dales – vital for “reduc(ing) private car usage by 48 per cent by 2030 and increase(ing) the use of buses and trains” in order to achieve its overarching “Route Map to Carbon Negative”.

Our campaign also includes our ongoing commitment to donating to DalesBus’ Sunday and Bank Holiday services through our community interest company, Dales and Bowland CIC. Be under no illusion, if it were not for our support and the generous donations of other charities, businesses and individuals − plus the work of volunteers − there would be hardly any Sunday and Bank Holiday bus services at all in the Dales.

Another issue flagged up by our Creative Campaigners was the difficulty – for those unaccustomed to bus travel − of trying to work out how to actually get a bus from A to B, including where the information exists (who the bus service provider is), how much it costs, where to get on and off the bus and how one timetable corresponds to another timetable if you are moving from one service provider’s area into another, such as from West Yorkshire to the Dales.

There isn’t a meaningful App you can use as is possible for the rail service. Your best bet seems to be Google Maps – although this doesn’t contain any information about pricing structures. However it’s worth noting that all single trips on local buses are currently just £2 until further notice.

One can only pray that our elected councillors find themselves unexpectedly car-less some time soon, with a need to put themselves in the shoes of their constituents. They always say that walking a mile in another person’s shoes can be a driver for change. In the case of better public transport provision, we literally need that to happen.

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