Let pensioners have free bus fares

IF councillors and national politicians did what they urge us all to do and catch the bus, they would soon discover just what an appalling service is offered to the public.

IF councillors and national politicians did what they urge us all to do and catch the bus, they would soon discover just what an appalling service is offered to the public.

Twice last week, rather than walk to work, I decided to go by bus. The disincentives to use public transport are appalling.

Firstly, there is no interchange of pre-paid tickets between Ipswich Buses and First Group. Having forked out £7 to First for a 10 trip ticket, it can't be used on Ipswich Buses. The latter company expect passengers to provide the correct fare – if you don't, you end up subsidising the company unless drivers can be convinced to provide a credit note which is redeemed only by going out of your way to some pokey little office in the centre of town.

As I waited in the rain for a First service, two buses with three passengers between them sped passed – they didn't stop because they were coming from the Martlesham park-and-ride site, the biggest white elephant ever inflicted on the council tax payers of Suffolk. What's galling for Ipswich residents on the Woodbridge Road corridor is watching buses they subsidise zoom by all but empty.

Grudgingly, I admit these park-and-ride buses are at least modern. I feel sorry for those who live on the Shotley Peninsular, or in Woodbridge, Framlingham and Aldeburgh who pay a fortune to be transported on the aging rattle traps provided by First and who, by all accounts, are finding that buses are either running late or are arbitrarily cancelled.

To add insult to injury, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration at the borough council is still refusing categorically to rule out scrapping the Ipswich concessionary fare scheme for pensioners. Currently OAPs pay 40p for a ticket but could end up forking out 55p a journey by being forced to join the county-wide scheme.

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At a time when both parties nationally are calling for higher state pensions and more help for the aged, it seems crazy for Tory and Lib Dems in Ipswich even to consider such a move, even though the Tory councillor in charge of finance and personnel John Carnall says he would be surprised if the concession did have to go.

The new administration should learm the first rule of politics. If you have no intention of doing something, deny it. Don't prevaricate.

"We've inherited a £20m. maintenance backlog and so we can't rule anything out yet," he explained. I suggest they can, and then go even further. They should be following the lead of London, Brighton, Manchester and Wales and making all bus fares for pensioners totally free. I was in Brighton for the Labour Party conference and on the city's buses there is a flat fare of £1.50 for a single journey or £2.40 for an all-day ticket. This might seem high, but it allows the elderly to be transported for nothing.

And it is also a good example of wealth redistribution – those of us who can afford to pay more subsidise those who can't. That's right: socialism.

But as the Blairite council which has just chucked in the towel in Ipswich wouldn't, it seems highly unlikely that the inheritors of Margaret Thatcher and their Lib Dem cohorts who are now in charge can afford to do the socially desirably, decent thing and make bus travel for the elderly free of charge.