Free bus travel for the elderly and disabled will continue in Gloucestershire.
From April next year, Gloucestershire County Council will take over responsibility from the district councils to provide the concessionary fares service.
The scheme, introduced in 2006, provides free local bus travel for the over 60’s and eligible disabled people throughout England.
In Gloucestershire, currently each district council operates a different scheme, which means what people are eligible for varies from area to area. At the moment, some of the district councils pay for an enhanced service, which in some areas includes earlier start times, travel tokens in lieu of bus passes and taxi tokens/vouchers.
From April 2011, there will be one county-wide scheme operated by the county council so everyone will be entitled to the same level of service.
The new scheme will provide bus passes for people to use between 9.30am and 11pm weekdays and all day at weekends and bank holidays. To protect the more vulnerable in our society we will also be offering a free companion pass for disabled people who are unable to travel unaccompanied.
Applying for and renewing passes will be simpler as the council will introduce online and library facilities for customers to use. All existing passes will continue to be valid but anyone renewing after April 2011 will need to deal with the county council instead of their district council to get their new pass.
Concessionary fares is a statutory scheme paid for by the government, but it is not clear yet whether Gloucestershire County Council will receive enough money to cover the cost of the scheme.
With the county and district councils already facing significant funding pressures, it is unlikely that additional enhanced services will be provided.
This means the current enhanced discretionary elements may stop from April 2011, subject to consultation.
Working with district councils, we will be asking concessionary fare users how these changes will affect them in November and December.
Cllr Stan Waddington, cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “During our recent conversations with the public, the majority of people told us that concessionary fares were important so I am delighted this scheme will continue.
“I do understand that for some people losing the discretionary enhancements may be difficult.
“Unfortunately, we simply cannot afford to put any additional money into this scheme when we’re facing the biggest funding gap we’ve ever had.
“The service we are providing will still allow free travel across the county for anyone who is eligible and that has to be our priority.”
For further information and to fill in a questionnaire, visit www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/concessionaryfares or call 01452 426263. Both the website and phone number will be open from Friday 19th November.