Passenger Power Campaign: If You Haven't Got a Car, They Don't Care ; Stuck in the Countryside: `North Yorkshire County Council Regards Rural Public Transport as Poor Law Provision, Nothing More'

Article excerpt

THE ROUGH beauty of the North York Moors attracts increasing numbers of tourists. And their cars. On most days in summer the elegant market towns and otherworldly stone villages are jammed with overheated traffic, vehicles squeezed into every available space.

The lack of public transport is bad enough for the visitors, but for locals it's even worse. You need a car to get into the area - and increasingly you need one to get out as rural bus services dwindle.

Last week, the elderly residents of Ampleforth village, nestling on the southern slopes of the Moors, met in the White Swan pub outraged that they have been all but cut off on three points of the compass. Their bus lifelines to York, 20 miles to the south, to Thirsk, 12 miles to the west and Helmsley, four miles to the north, have been either slashed or abolished.

Thanks to the Independent on Sunday's Passenger Power campaign, North Yorkshire County Council has just agreed to reinstate the vital 5.15 pm service from York to Ampleforth.

But this minor victory is not enough for Anne Pickles, an Ampleforth pensioner who cannot drive. Mrs Pickles is desperate about the poor service and may be forced to move as a result. She came to Ampleforth when her husband died, attracted by its transport links, however imperfect. She said: "I can no longer get to Thirsk any more where I bank and where I have my dentist. The service to York is still hopeless. I believe I will have no option but to sell my house and move. "

Until last week the Reliance bus company ran regular services to and from York five times a day, between 9am and 7pm, building up customers with attractive new buses.

But now North Yorkshire County Council has handed the contract to a company called Stephensons, which offered to run the service on a commercial basis, requiring no subsidy. Predictably enough, the result is fewer buses. There are now only two a day to York - one mid-morning, one in the early afternoon - on a journey that takes more than an hour-and-a-half. It costs more than pounds 4 for a return.

Until the IoS intervened, the last bus back from York left at 2pm. On Friday, the council described this as "an oversight" and rushed out a new timetable with a 5.15pm service. Stephensons said it was "a last minute change of heart".

Meanwhile buses to Thirsk have been completely removed and if you want to go to nearby Helmsley you have a four-hour wait for the bus back. Nancy Bowes, a fellow pensioner, can no longer visit relatives because of the limited service. …