The "Northern Dalesman", otherwise known as services 830 / 832 between Lancaster, Ingleton, Hawes and Richmond is set to return for the summer on 1st May as part of the popular "Dales Bus" network of services in, to and from the Yorkshire Dales.
This year, however, holders of the English National Concession Bus Pass - or "NoW Card" will have to pay to use it as Lancashire County Council has decided to exclude the service from the bus pass scheme.
When asked by the Bus Users' Group to explain their action, a "Transportation Officer" from the Council responded that :
"the service is of limited use to Lancashire residents apart from allowing them to enjoy a day out in the Yorkshire Dales"!
This is , of course, a very worrying development. If the County Council feels that NoW Cards should not be used to allow Lancashire residents to "enjoy a day out in the Yorkshire Dales" what is to stop them taking the view that they shouldn't be used for a day trip to the Lake District, to Blackpool or to anywhere else that takes their fancy?
In fact, the Concessionary Travel Act 2007 that set up the scheme does not state any journey purpose for which concessions should or should not be available, merely that they must be available on all registered local bus services.
Amendments introduced by Regulations, in 2009, did allow local authorities to exclude any services provided "primarily for the purposes of tourism" from the scope of the scheme. The Regulations themselves, however, did not provide a definition of "tourism" and Guidance subsequently made available by the Department for Transport made it quite clear that the purpose of the change was to exclude only premium-fare services that provided an amenity element such as a commentary or tour.
Specifically the Guidance says:
Government Response 30. We believe this proposal will only affect services which are clearly tourist sightseeing services. By this we mean the type of services which charge premium fares and may provide a commentary or tour.. . The Department’s view is that this exemption would not in any way exclude normal local bus services that charge standard fares but which happen to stop at tourist or historic destinations.
The Northern Dalesman does not "charge premium fares" nor "provide a commentary or tour". Neither is it operated by "historic" vehicles. It is, however, "a normal bus service" and even if it does "happen to stop at tourist or historic destinations" then clearly the Department does not expect it to be excluded from the bus pass scheme.
The Bus Users' Group has therefore formally asked Lancashire County Council to change its policy, to recognise that the Northern Dalesman service does meet the criteria, as expected by the Department for Transport, for inclusion in the NoW Card scheme and to make NoW Cards available on the service.