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Threat to cheap fares on buses in North Yorkshire
BUS operators in North Yorkshire have warned they may be forced to increase their fares if the amount of council cash they receive for offering concessionary rates is cut.
North Yorkshire County Council says that following new guidance from the Department for Transport, it is “essential” for its reimbursement scheme to be reviewed and costs reduced.
The scheme compensates bus operators who provide free and discounted travel for the money they would have otherwise received.
If approved by the authority’s executive next week, its concessionary fares budget for 2013/14 could be cut by as much as £1.4 million. The changes would come into force at the start of June. Transport bosses have said the reduction may be lower and firms would be paid more if the number of concessionary passes increases, but a report by John Laking, the council’s policy development manager, said some operators would be affected and bus passengers on low incomes would feel the knock-on effect if fares rose as a result.
The council – which took responsibility for concessionary fares two years ago – has held talks with ten firms, including Arriva and Coastliner.
Mr Laking’s report says: “All the operators expressed concerns at the loss of revenue and indicated they will need to consider what actions they will take.
“Most of the operators have indicated they will, at least, increase fares. In practice, operators can respond to reductions in revenue by reducing service levels, increasing fares or withdrawing whole routes.
“It is recognised that while the change only directly affects bus operators, it indirectly may impact on bus users through the actions operators make in response.”
Mr Laking’s report says that, if services are withdrawn, the council would consider buying them back. It expects to have spent £8.6 million on concessionary fares, totalling more than seven million journeys, in 2012/13, £275,000 less than the previous year. It said the principle of the reimbursement scheme was that participating firms should be “no better or worse off”.
If bus operators disagree with a reimbursement scheme, they can apply to the Transport Secretary for it to be scrapped or changed, but Mr Laking’s report said it was “unlikely” companies could successfully challenge the council if it used DfT’s guidelines to make its decision.