In our post of 17th November under the title”Are local authorities creaming off bus pass and the Bus Operators Grant to subsidise other services?” and so we wrote to the Department of Transport expressing our concerns. This is the reply received:
“Your correspondence has now been forwarded to the Buses and Taxis division of the Department for Transport and I have been asked to reply.
Firstly, may I assure you that there are no plans either to withdraw the statutory entitlement to concessionary bus travel or to introduce means testing to assess eligibility for the scheme. The right to free bus travel for both older and disabled people is enshrined in primary legislation and the Government has committed to preserving the current statutory entitlement to concessionary bus travel in this Parliament.
Local buses are the most commonly used mode of public transport, particularly for older people and the purpose of providing free local bus travel England-wide is to ensure that no older or disabled person in England need be prevented from bus travel by cost alone. Indeed, for many older and disabled people a free local bus service can be a lifeline, providing access to healthcare and other essential services as well as allowing people to visit family and friends, stay active and avoid isolation.
The Government is focusing its efforts on finding efficiencies in delivering the bus travel concession, rather than by cutting back on the entitlement offered to older and disabled people. A number of reforms have been introduced including the movement of administrative responsibility for the scheme to upper tier authorities, mainly county councils, and the gradual realigning of the age of eligibility to the state pension age. This should bring economies of scale.
With regard to rural bus services, the Coalition Government is committed to supporting buses and recognises the importance of public transport for communities. Inadequate transport provision is a very real concern and can be a barrier to the prosperity of all, particularly people living in rural areas.
It might be helpful if I explain that around three-quarters of bus services outside London are provided on a commercial basis by private operators. Decisions such as where to run services, the frequency of those services, the type of vehicle used, the level of fares or agreed local concessions are mainly a matter for the operator concerned.
Where there is not enough demand for a bus route to be commercially viable in its own right, all local authorities have powers to subsidise bus services. Around one-fifth of all bus services are subsidised in this way.
Clearly, in these very difficult economic times Government has to consider where funding is best targeted. However, in the Spending Review the Government confirmed that the funding which it provides to support buses will be protected for 2015/16.
Moreover, reforms to the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) will ensure that Government bus funding is put to the best possible use. In particular, devolving BSOG funding for services tendered by local authorities outside London should give those authorities, including Tyne and Wear PTE, more say over how that funding is spent and will allow them to identify their priorities, for instance services in rural areas. The funding stream will be ring-fenced until April 2017.
Ultimately it is for local authorities, working in partnership with their communities, to identify the right transport solutions that meet the economic and environmental challenges faced in their areas and deliver the greatest benefits for their communities.”
Our comment: The answer doesn’t give any assurances about the way in which local authorities use funding for bus passes and bus services, but does give some information e.g four-fifths of local councils do not subsidise bus services.