Fears of financial ‘time bomb’ of free bus passes

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The national free bus pass scheme for the elderly and the disabled is a financial “time bomb” that could damage spending on other key services, urban transport authority leaders claimed yesterday.

Funding the scheme could lead to a 75 per cent cut in spending on other frontline transport services in 10 years’ time, the chiefs of the six largest urban transport authorities outside London warned.

These passenger transport executive (PTE) bosses, including those in South and West Yorkshire, have written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin warning that although the costs of the scheme are on an upward trend, Government funding will have been reduced by 27 per cent between 2010/11 and 2014/15.

Already funding the scheme takes up around half of all PTE spending. With wider PTE funding also being cut, this means the rising cost of funding the concessionary pass rapidly eats into spending on other services. So by 2022, spending on these could be reduced by three-quarters, they say.

The chairman of the group of the six authorities, Coun David Wood, chairman of Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, said the concessionary fare scheme had been a big success and something people wanted to flourish.

“However, 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.”

The six authorities are: Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Last year we put in place reforms to help local authorities cut the costs of concessionary travel schemes. 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 bus pass.”

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