Thursday, 1 March 2007

Free bus scheme running into trouble

Anyone in England aged over 60 and the registered disabled can travel for free during off peak times (for which read after 9.30). Under government rules the minimum area covered by the scheme is the local authority area in which you reside. As I understand it central government doles out to the districts sums of money that they assume will cover the costs. This may all appear very worthy but there is a fundamental problem - just how does one assess the number of people likely to take up the scheme, the number of journeys they are likely to make and the length of these journeys. Some local councils in our area are finding themselves overstretched paying for this initiative because of the popularity of the scheme.

To muddy the waters many of the councils are allowing the pensioners and disabled free travel countywide. In Devon for example up until now this has applied to all local authorities except Plymouth and East Devon. These two areas consider that a county wide scheme is not affordable. Today we learn that Torbay will be joining them with Mid Devon hovering in the wings to cut back the extent of free travel in the not too distant future. Give Torbay their due, they are extending the free area along the A380 corridor to Newton Abbot and bringing in a flat rate fare of just £1 (single) to places such as Exeter and Plymouth.

As happens again, again and again in this country it is a postcode lottery as to how much you can enjoy a government sponsored benefit. This particular nut is a hard one to crack because it's a victim of its own success and there has to be a lid on the pot of money available. Hindsight is wonderful of course but it seems that a more modest arrangement should have been initiated in the first place with a view to watching the uptake. Perhaps a very modest contribution from the user rather than completely free fares.

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