Government urged to rethink 'bizarre' law banning pensioners from contributing towards lifeline bus services (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Government urged to rethink 'bizarre' law banning pensioners from contributing towards lifeline bus services
4:58pm Friday 24th January 2014 in News
AN MP is pressing for a change in the law which bans pensioners from contributing towards bus services.
Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh has applied for a House of Commons debate as campaigners dubbed the Concessionary Bus Travel Act “bizarre” as elderly passengers on trains have to pay £30 to receive a concessionary rail card.
North Yorkshire County Council leader Councillor John Weighell estimated tens of thousands of pensioners in the county want to contribute towards fares to make 150 threatened services financially viable for bus operators.
The authority, which is mid-way through cutting its budget by £168m, decided to cut its bus subsidies by £2m earlier this week, despite warnings over the loss of services to sheltered housing estates and doctors’ surgeries.
The council spends £8m a year subsidising pensioners’ bus travel in the county, which has a high proportion of elderly residents, who represent 70 per cent of the bus services’ users.
Coun Weighell said he would write to the Transport Secretary to highlight pensioners’ frustration over the law.
He said: “We are not allowed to put a box on buses and ask for voluntary contributions or charge for a bus pass.
“I have consistently heard over a number of years that people are using their concessionary bus passes, but feel it is wrong.”
Miss McIntosh has applied for a House of Commons debate within the next two weeks and is lobbying MPs to amend the legislation.
She said: “When I have taken the bus from my home to Northallerton or Thirsk, I am the only one on board who is paying.
“Without such a change we risk losing vital bus services across North Yorkshire which provide a lifeline for the elderly and many vulnerable people in rural areas dependent on rural bus services.”
A spokesman for the Campaign for Better Transport said Miss McIntosh and the county council should concentrate on pressing the Government to provide extra funding for concessionary bus services.
“It is a bizarre situation, but as soon as you start losing the [free fares for pensioners] legislation the next stage would be for it to be means tested, then later in life, then get rid of it all together.”
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said the Government was focusing its efforts in making the bus concession more efficient, rather than by cutting back on the entitlement offered to older and disabled people.
She added: “Local authorities are best placed to decide how to provide supported bus services, reflecting local needs and within available budgets.”
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