Friday, 27 January 2012

Council Seeks To Charge 50p Fare For Free Bus Trips

There seems to be good news in Cornwall where the county council there has agreed a budget of £2.4m over the next two years to protect rural bus services.

Ninety-five of the county's services had been threatened because of a cut in government subsidy for bus services.

It's not all good news, though.

Cornwall County Council admitted that despite the new funding, it couldn't guarantee fares wouldn't go up. It is also going to ask the government if it can trial a 50p charge to free pass holders to further prop up the threatened routes - which seems to be an admission that the £2.4m is probably not enough.

It's a controversial step. One local councillor said that charging the neediest in society for bus journeys was a worrying move. "The bus passes are for people who can't, by and large, afford to pay,” he said. “How can they now afford to pay for buses which had been free?"

At the moment there are 126,000 free bus pass holders in Cornwall, plus thousands more visitors, who will all be affected if the Department of Transport allows the county to become a national pilot area for the 50p charge.

Councillors lay the blame for the threat to bus services squarely on the Government for shaving £2.3 million from the money the council needs to reimburse bus companies for concessionary bus journeys. At the moment the council reimburses almost three-quarters of the normal single adult fare on concessionary journeys - but this figure will tumble to just half in April.

Neither can the council guarantee that fares on ordinary commercial bus services, which are operated without subsidy, won't go up too.

Mark Howarth, managing director of Western Greyhound, reckoned that the extra funding was good news for the public.

"We've been saying all along the importance of bus services to the people of Cornwall, and I think that has been recognised by virtually all the councillors that they voted for extra money,” he told local media.

"We will only put fares up if we have to. But with the reduction in fuel duty rebate, with the cost of fuel going up, tyres, insurance, all these things are escalating beyond belief. We will keep our fares as low as possible, but inevitably they will have to rise."

Howarth also said that he didn't believe the Government would support the council's plans to make concessionary card holders pay a 50p charge for what is essentially a free journey.

He may very well be right. If so, Cornwall County Council could find itself in an even tighter financial spot before the year is out.

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