Concerns raised over cost of free bus travel in South Yorkshire

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BOSSES at South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive have written to the Government warning that the national free bus pass scheme for the elderly and the disabled is a financial ‘time bomb’.

They have a joined forces with five of the other largest urban transport authorities outside London to warn Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin that funding the scheme could lead to a 75 per cent cut in spending on other services in 10 years’ time.

The PTE bosses from South Yorkshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire pointed out that the costs of the scheme is increasing yet Government funding is being reduced by 27 per cent for the period between 2010/11 and 2014/15.

Funding the scheme takes up around half of all PTE spending, with transport bosses claiming they have little influence over the cost of the scheme and have no choice but to fund what is a legal requirement.

With wider PTE funding also being cut this means that the rising cost of funding the concessionary pass rapidly eats into spending.

The warn that by 2022 spending on frontline services could be reduced by three quarters.

The chairman of the group of the six authorities, Coun David Wood, said the concessionary fare scheme had been a big success and something people wanted to flourish but not at the cost of other services.

He said: “It cannot be right that the cost of providing what is a national statutory scheme, determined by national government, should create such a heavy funding burden for transport authorities in a way that threatens the future of the services that we provide for all members of our communities, including older and disabled people.

“There will be little point in a free pass if the bus services that older people are using have to be withdrawn to pay for it. Nobody wants to see that - least of all older and disabled people - which is why we need a sustainable long-term funding solution for concessionary fares which will both guarantee the future of the scheme while protecting other essential transport services.”

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Statistics published by the Department for Transport show that concessionary travel went down per journey, not up, in 2011/12.

“Last year, we put in place reforms to help local authorities cut the costs of concessionary travel schemes and these reforms are already starting to take effect.

“In 2010 we introduced changes to the age of eligibility which will, over time, see a gradual increase to the age at which people are entitled to a pass. We are doing this to take into account growing numbers of older people and help with financial sustainability.”

Should the elderly and disabled receive free bus passes? Email: letters@thestar.co.uk