Gloucestershire County Council has approved a new scheme to provide free bus travel for the elderly and disabled.
Today, Cabinet backed the new concessionary fares scheme and vowed to look at ways of helping people in remote areas continue to access free bus services in future. Currently the concessionary fares scheme is provided to 102,000 Gloucestershire residents by the district councils, but from April the county council will take over.
The government provides funding for a statutory scheme, which allows pass holders catch the bus for free between 9.30am and 11pm on weekdays and all day at weekends and Bank Holidays. Previously, some district councils chose to pay for an enhanced service, which in some areas includes earlier start times, travel tokens in lieu of bus passes and taxi tokens/vouchers.
However, this year, the government has only given £5.3million to the county council while the statutory scheme alone costs £5.9million to provide. This means the council has to add £600,000 of its own funds just provide the basics.
The council has been talking to people for the past few months about the new scheme and it was looking at whether or not enhancements could be provided. But it is now clear that with the additional £600,000 the scheme will cost and considerable financial pressures the council is already under, it is not possible to provide enhancements across the board. However, feedback during the consultation showed real concern about people in rural areas accessing services where buses did not run after 9.30am.
To address this concern, a separate report will be put together, which will look at cost effective ways of helping these isolated communities affected by the change. To protect the more vulnerable in our society the council will also be offering a free companion pass for disabled people who are unable to travel unaccompanied.
District councils can still choose to provide enhancements themselves if they wish. Cllr Stan Waddington, cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “When we talked to people the key issue that kept cropping up was access to services in rural areas where buses do not run after 9.30am, and it was clear that we needed to look more closely at this.
“In an ideal world, we’d like to extend the statutory scheme so everyone could travel when they wanted, but we have to be realistic.
“We already have to add £600,000 to cover the cost of the basic scheme and with our budgets stretched to the limits we cannot afford to put anymore into this.
“A new report will be prepared to look at what we can do to help those people who affected by the time changes, but this will be on a needs only basis.”
The scheme, introduced in 2006, provides free local bus travel for the over 60’s and eligible disabled people throughout England. During the consultation 900 people responded and 71 people attended drop-ins.
The county council will introduce online and library facilities for customers to use to apply for passes in future.
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.
Issued by Lisa Bonnell, Gloucestershire County Council Media Team, 01452 425226
Media & PR Manager
Gloucestershire County Council
Shire Hall, Westgate Street, Gloucester, GL1 2TG
Tel: 01452 425226 / 07805 540422