Elderly set to pay the price as council counts the cost of buses

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RURAL bus passengers have been warned they may face further cuts to services next year as county councillors prepare to impose a dramatic cut in the funding they provide.

Councillors could cut as much as £2m per year from North Yorkshire’s bus subsidy budget next week although they could choose to go for a more modest package of measures that would save the authority around £1.3m.

However, a report to be considered by councillors on Tuesday stresses that the black hole in the authority’s budget means “the council will need to consider further expenditure on bus services from 2015 onwards”.

And the authority has raised questions over whether the national scheme offering free bus travel to pensioners should continue in its current form.

The report says the council will discuss with the Government the financial pressure the concessionary travel scheme puts on councils.

The authority suggests its own consultation on bus services has shown “a significant number of pass-holders would be prepared to make a voluntary contribution”.

Local authorities have been complaining that the money they receive from the Government to fund concessionary travel does not meet all the costs.

However campaigners for the elderly insist free bus travel must be protected.

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: “Living in isolation and loneliness is a stark reality for too many older people.

“The bus pass is a real lifeline for many who would otherwise find themselves stranded at home and unable to afford to go out.

“Many older people rely on their bus passes for everyday trips to the shops, to get to GP and hospital appointments or to visit friends.”

The report acknowledges concerns that cuts in bus subsidies could lead to the “potential isolation of communities” but insists that the package of measures on the table will “retain extensive geographical coverage”.

The proposed changes to services include revised school buses that would see some withdrawn with transport only provided to those entitled to free home-to-school travel. In other cases the current school service will be maintained but a minimum £1 fare will be introduced.

If agreed by the authority, most public bus service changes will take place in April and May.

Those affecting most school buses will not however take effect until the start of the new academic year in September while others some will not come into force until after that.

If councillors approve the full package of measures, about 
150 services would be affected 
in some way through replacements, revised timetables or in some cases being withdrawn altogether.

If councillors decide to take the more modest option, savings will be focused on school and town services and changes to poorly performing contracts.

This option, the report to be considered on Tuesday says, would mean the council could “retain much of its supported network”.

But councillors are urged to “consider the potential benefits of realising the full saving amount” as the authority looks to make major cost reductions.

The county council is reviewing all areas of spending as it tries to find savings of more than £70m in the next four years.

It has repeatedly frozen its council tax bills in recent years but has warned an increase may be necessary this year.

Councillors are set to vote on a two per cent rise in their share of the bill, the maximum allowed under the current Government rules.