A CONSERVATIVE-run local authority has sounded a note of caution about Boris Johnson’s £3bn Bus Back Better initiative raising residents’ public transport expectations to an unsustainable level.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive heard while there was confidence funding for improved services, particularly in rural areas of the county which currently see little if any public transport, would be available for the next few years, its ability to subsidise services beyond that remained uncertain.

However, leading councillors said the move had the potential to be a “game-changer” for the county, as there were “great contrasts from estates that have electric buses going round every 12 minutes” to “villages with no bus service at all that left communities exposed”.

The authority’s executive approved creating “enhanced partnerships” with local bus operators to work more closely to improve services and make the county eligible for funding from the government’s National Bus Strategy.

Under the strategy the council must produce a bus service improvement plan by the end of October which is “fully informed by local needs”.

While the council has faced criticism amid claims it cut more bus services than any other local authority in the country during austerity, it has consistently defended its actions saying there was low demand for many of the axed services.

Nevertheless, campaigners say with hundreds of villages across England’s largest county, many of which are in isolated locations, the service cuts have effectively marooned those who can’t afford their own transport as well as young, vulnerable and elderly people.

The authority’s leader Councillor Carl Les told the meeting the improved partnerships with bus operators would be “just a first step in Bus Back Better”.

Cllr Les, who has already secured ministerial support for demand-responsive bus services across the county if a pilot scheme in the Bedale and Ripon area is successful, said: “I think it is an exciting time for us.”

The meeting heard councillors signal warnings over long-term government funding for the bus service improvements, amid concerns the council could end up being faced with cutting back on scores of services again.

Nevertheless, members vowed they would “not go back to the days of empty buses sailing around villages with nothing but fresh air inside”.

The authority’s finance boss Councillor Gareth Dadd while developing the improvements, the council needed to be mindful of “a cost legacy that’s unsustainable”.

He said: “I wouldn’t like to think we introduce services that ultimately end up with very limited passenger use.

“We have got to be careful about raising expectations that will leave a long-term cost.”