Bus services can't be saved by bus pass holders offering fare contributions

The Northern Echo: A bus in the country A bus in the country

IT is not possible for bus pass holders to pay a voluntary contribution towards their fares in a bid to save threatened services, councillors heard today (Thursday, December 19).

North Yorkshire County Council is grappling with the issue of where to bring down the axe on subsidised bus services across the region, as it reduces its bus subsidy by 25 per cent, equivalent to £1.1m a year, following Government cuts.

It spends £4.4m a year subsidising 20 per cent of journeys that are not commercially viable. North Yorkshire is particularly badly affected with a population spread over a large area and a large elderly population.

Today (Thursday), the county council’s transport overview and scrutiny committee discussed a report on its consultations.

More than 1,600 people protested, with 15 petitions and 29 letters from MPs sent to the council.

Councillors said they were extremely concerned about the impact on the day-to-day lives of vulnerable and elderly people.

Many also said residents with bus passes were offering to pay voluntary contributions.

In a statement sent to the meeting, County Councillor David Jeffels said there seemed to be “quite considerable support from older generations to make contributions”.

However, chairman of the meeting, Robert Packham, said that, legally, the council was unable to come to an arrangement where people could pay towards the cost as it was Government policy to provide free bus passes for older people.

“What people seem to be saying is not that people are willing to pay the fare, but a contribution, and the amount of contribution is usually about 50p to £1. We can’t put in a scheme for people to pay a contribution - it’s just not possible,” he said.

“The only option is that people don’t use their pass and pay a full fare. They’re faced with a £3.50 to £4 fare which is more than they feel reasonable to contribute. That’s the dilemma.”

He said the only solution was to make representations to the Government.

Coun John Clark told the meeting cutting bus services would potentially increase costs for social services by leaving some people completely isolated.

He said the focus should not just be on preserving services for rural, isolated communities.

“You can be just as isolated if you live one mile from the town centre in Pickering as someone 15 miles in the hills if you can’t walk that one mile to get to the doctors or hairdressers,” he told the meeting.

He told the meeting if elderly people became cut off from society and unable to perform basic tasks such as shopping, social services would have to step in at greater cost.

“The cost for caring for that person becomes greater than the bus subsidy for the whole town for the whole year,” he said.

The committee decided to look at finding funding through commercial sponsorship and set up a working group to look further into the issues.

They also said possible future funding reductions needed to be considered.

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