Funding free bus passes is becoming “nearly impossible” for councils, the Local Government Association has warned, as the number of journeys taken falls to a 12 year low.
Older and disabled bus users have been told by the LGA that subsidising free travel while having to find billions of pounds worth of savings and protect other vital services is a nearly insurmountable task.
Free bus passes are protected by law for over-65’s and disabled customers, but with less money being committed by the government councils are struggling to fulfill their statutory duties of providing good, reliable services with passenger numbers dropping significantly.
Local authority bus budgets in England and Wales were slashed by £20.5 million last year – the eighth consecutive annual cut.
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Bus travel has fallen to its lowest demand since 2006, and ten per cent fewer journeys being taken than ten years ago.
Following a lengthy review Over-60s will continue to enjoy free bus travel in Scotland, allaying fears the age could be raised, transport secretary Michael Matheson announced today. It follows a Scottish Government review of the £202 million a year scheme, which sparked concerns that eligibility could be narrowed because of its rising cost. In fact, Mr Matheson said the national concessionary travel scheme would be extended to include those travelling with eligible disabled children under five. He said more than 3,000 families and children could benefit.
Earlier threat of an age eligibility increase
Scotland’s transport minister has been accused of “freely admitting” a potential shake-up over free bus travel after he raised “concerns” over their long-term sustainability. Humza Yousaf made the comments just weeks before the results of a wide-ranging consultation on raising the age of eligibilty.
He said it was important to find a balance with the scheme and ensuring affordability, due to Scotland’s ageing population. Mr Yousaf said there was “concern around the longer-term sustainability” of the scheme, with Scottish ministers considering raising the age of eligibilty. He added: “We know that we have an ageing population, an ageing demographic – as most of western Europe does – and therefore we have to find a balance between making this scheme fair, realising the benefits of it, and making it sustainable in the long term.
A Carlisle lady calls for support for a petition to reduce the qualifying age for a bus pass to age 60 in England. Christine Russell thinks it is unfair that women in parts of the country get a free pass at age 60, while others are forced to wait until they are 65 or more..
Our comment: And to rub salt into the wounds people in Scotland can get a bus pass at age 60, which also entitles them to free standard class rail travel on journeys to and from Berwick-upon-Tweed and Carlisle
Understandable how people in England feel where passes are now only available from about age 65 and increasing further in the years ahead, whilst in Scotland, Wales & N Ireland passes are available at age 60.
PS: why is the campaign for women only ?
Sign the petition
In Scotland people aged 60 or over are holding their breaths whilst the outcome of The Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of bus pass entitlement in Scotland is awaited. The closing date for responses was November 17th 2017. In brief the 3 options consulted on are:
- make no change to the scheme, leaving the eligibility rules as they are (i.e. age 60); or
- raise the age of eligibility for both men and women in one step from 60 to the (female) State Pension age (which will be 65 in November 2018 and will increase to 68 over a number of years )
- raise the age of eligibility for men and women progressively towards the State Pension age (see 2 above) by annual increases of one year or half a year to the age of eligibility.
The Scottish Government’s proposal to raise the eligibility age for concessionary travel could have a damaging effect on bus services in South-West Scotland, SWestrans, the area’s regional transport partnership, has warned.
Responding to Transport Scotland’s concessionary fares consultation (LTT 15 Sep), SWestrans says that any raising of the age eligibility criteria could see the number of bus journeys fall.
Sad to hear, but
Councillors in the Borders have backed increasing the age at which people are eligible for a free bus pass to the state pension age.
The Scottish government is consulting on changing the qualification criteria.
It could mean people aged 60 and over would not automatically be entitled to free bus travel in Scotland.
Scottish Borders Council backed increasing the age but also wanted to ensure people with disabilities kept getting the pass regardless of age.
However, in neighbouring Dumfries and Galloway the region’s transport partnership – Swestrans – has urged no changes to the scheme.
It has said any move to raise the age level could threaten local services.
The consultation on any changes was announced earlier this year.
It could see the scheme – introduced in 2006 – extended to Modern Apprentices and those on Job Grants but it is looking at the “long-term sustainability” of offering all those over 60 free travel.