Free bus scheme for OAP 'cut back'

CASH-strapped councils are reducing the hours that pensioners will be able to use a national free bus pass scheme.

CASH-strapped councils are reducing the hours that pensioners will be able to use a national free bus pass scheme.

From April 1, the Government has ruled that anyone aged 60 or over can travel for free on buses anywhere in England rather than just in their own area.

However earlier this week the East Anglian Daily Times revealed how council leaders in north and mid Essex had warned of a funding black hole due to the scheme.

They feared the £212 million allocated by the Government to the scheme, which is administered and run by local councils, had been seriously miscalculated and said resources could be lost from frontline services to cover the shortfall.

Now it has been revealed that in some areas the free pass will not be valid until 9.30am although it will run in some areas until 11.30pm.

Maldon District Council is keeping the 9am start saying the high number of rural residents meant the earlier start would “be of enormous benefit.”

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However, Braintree, Tendring, Colchester and Chelmsford councils have all moved the start time forward to 9.30am.

Phyllis Webb, chairman of Braintree Pensioners' Action Group, said she felt the change was “unfair” and did not make sense.

Mrs Webb is also on a transport forum groups which gives feedback to Braintree District Council and is opposing the change.

“We have been fighting it, they tell us they have not got the money but they are going to make the travel available until 11pm,” she said.

“How many pensioners want to be on a bus at that time? I wouldn't.

“We would much rather they kept it at 9am then have the free travel all round the country.

“Think how much it will cost to them to change it over, to change over the machines and such.”

Mrs Webb said she also felt it would impact on pensioners enjoying days out in the summer and added: “In the summer I enjoy going to Clacton and I get the 9am bus from Braintree to Colchester, then the 10.15am from Colchester to Clacton and get there around 12pm.

“If I had to leave half an hour later I would not get there until gone 1pm and it would not be a day out really as you would need to get the bus back at about 4pm to get home at a decent time.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said the £212m allocated to councils was based on “generous assumptions” about pass take-up and anticipated increased demand.

He said: “This typically equates to 33% more than councils currently spend on bus concessions, yet at the moment only 4% of bus journeys take place outside a passenger's local county area.

“We believe this is an excellent and well-funded scheme.”

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