PENSIONERS must be allowed to contribute towards their bus fares to help save services, one of the region’s Conservative MPs told ministers last night.
Strict rules that hand all elderly people free passes – or require them to pay full fares – should be abolished, Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh said.
The move would help ease growing “anxiety” in North Yorkshire and elsewhere that cash-starved local authorities will be forced to axe bus routes, she said.
And it would put bus travel on the same footing as rail services, where pensioners pay subsidised fares – but there is no blanket free travel for old folk.
Miss McIntosh said: “Many constituents are willing to subsidise their services. However, this solution is prohibited due to the Concessionary Bus Travel Act.
“When I have travelled on the bus from home to Northallerton or Thirsk, I am often the only full fare paying passenger on board.
“Yet the bus services are vital to my constituents. If residents are willing to pay for their service, then surely this must be permitted.”
Staging a Commons debate, the MP suggested the elderly could be allowed to pay partial fares on the bus itself, or in a different way.
The MP told The Northern Echo: “That is something to be worked out. I want to establish the same principle for bus passengers as for rail passengers.”
The debate came amid ongoing controversy over Conservative-run North Yorkshire County Council’s decision to axe £2m from bus subsidies.
Almost 6,000 people signed petitions protesting about the impact on dozens of less popular routes across the county, run by private operators which receive the subsidies.
But the council says the cuts are an unavoidable part of attempts to cope with Government cuts - with £94 million saved so far and a further £77m still to find.
Miss McIntosh agreed that the ‘Dial a Ride’ scheme – promoted by the council as an alternative to regular services – would not be able to “cope with the sheer number of users”.
And she pointed out that, of the £8m that North Yorkshire spent each year on subsidising bus fares, around 70 per cent of the passengers helped are elderly.
Miss McIntosh warned: “Allowing pensioners to have a bus pass is of great value - but of no avail if bus services are removed.”
There has been growing alarm about disappearing bus services, struck down by the double whammy of cuts to bus operator grants and local authority support budgets.
Darlington and Hartlepool are among town halls that provide no cash support at all, while Middlesbrough spends the third lowest sum in England (£123,600).