Transport features prominently in a proposed devolution deal for North Yorkshire and York, which will see a mayoral combined authority (MCA) formed and a unitary model of local government beneath it.
Funding for ultra-low emission buses, electric vehicle charging, and demand responsive bus services feature in the proposal. The councils also want the power to accept donations from English National Concessionary Travel Scheme passholders (see panel).
The proposals must be endorsed by all the constituent councils before being submitted to the Government. The councils envisage the MCA being created in April 2022, with the first mayoral election in May 2022.
Ministers are expected to make a unitary model of local government in North Yorkshire a pre-requisite to any deal. The City of York Council is already a unitary.
The MCA would become the local transport authority for the area, with powers to prepare a local transport plan and introduce bus franchising.
The proposed five-year (2021/22-2025/26) transport funding ‘asks’ of Government are:
The £52.5m for ultra-low emission buses would be spent in two phases. In the first, £27.5m would be used to help make bus services in York all-electric. This will require about 150 electric buses and charging infrastructure installed in the depots of seven bus operators. “Operators have committed to make match funding investments of a further £24m,” say the councils.
Phase two, costing £25m, would deploy ultra-low emission buses in the larger settlements of North Yorkshire, such as Harrogate and Scarborough.
A third phase would deliver ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) to the most rural areas of North Yorkshire. “This will require further funding to deliver, once detailed work has been completed to identify suitable ULEV solutions for use in a rural context.”
Of the £36m for bus services, £2m would pump-prime services in the wake of Covid-19; £33m would provide better service provision in North Yorkshire; and £1m to develop technology based on the principles of Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
The £2m pump-priming would ‘seed’ fund services, with payments tapering off as passenger numbers recover.
Say the councils: “Given only 80 per cent patronage levels are anticipated in comparison to pre-pandemic patronage nationally, some commercial services that were only marginally profitable will become unprofitable and will therefore be terminated or curtailed in some way, with our local transport authorities required to backfill the lost services.
“The position is likely to be much worse in rural areas where such services only operate once per day or week, risking entire loss of services in comparison to urban areas where service retrenchment is likely to form frequency reductions.”
The £33m of bus support would pay for demand responsive services in parts of North Yorkshire poorly served by existing bus services. “Initiatives will operate earlier in the morning and later in the evening on request throughout a defined area/zone, encompassing a number of rural and dispersed settlements and market towns,” say the councils.
North Yorkshire and York councils want the power to be able to accept donations for travel from English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) passholders.
The statutory ENCTS gives passholders the right to free off-peak bus travel in England. But the councils say the ability to accept a contribution could provide a “critical source of additional funding to aid the recovery of our bus market” following Covid-19.
Ian Fielding, assistant director for North Yorkshire County Council’s integrated passenger transport told LTT: “The law currently prevents us from accepting a donation towards a fare from people using concessionary passes. We are not asking for the power to levy the full fare or recover all our costs but it is our belief that people would be more than willing to make a small contribution if that is what is needed to keep bus services going.”
The policy could be implemented “as discreet pilots to develop a proof-of-concept, which could inform future national policy and potential roll-out in other areas”.
The councils also want the power to transfer ENCTS?passes onto smartphones.
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