Friday, 10 February 2012

More Financial Worry For Passengers

I've come across three more examples of how funding cuts to Britain's public transport are causing worry and hardship.

In Cumbria, pensioners are claiming they are being 'ripped off 'by Cumbria County Council after they brought in a £10 charge for replacing a lost concessionary bus pass. The council introduced the charge after it took over responsibility for pass applications from borough and district councils last year.

Local councils used to charge only £5 for replacing lost or damaged cards, though in practice they often waived the charge completely.

Cumbria County Council defended its decision to introduced a £10 replacement charge by saying that £5 of it covers the administration of issuing a new card and its delivery, whilst the other £5 covers the overheads involved in issuing the replacement pass. Err.. isn't that the same thing?

They also reckon that a £10 charge will discourage fraudulent use. However, local pensioners suggest that it might discourage any use, as £10 is a fair old chunk out your weekly pension.

Meanwhile, and also in the North West, the member of parliament for Bolton North East David Crausby tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to retain the concessionary bus pass scheme for all pensioners.

He wanted to draw out a firm commitment from the government following a speech by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, in which he suggested that bus pass applications should be means-tested and that some pensioners should perhaps make a “sacrifice” to help the Government.

Supporters of the concessionary travel scheme believe that a system of means- testing would be pointless because of the expense of operating it would eat up any savings achieved by introducing it. Mr Crausby also reckons that excluding certain people from the scheme would be just the start.

“Once you set a threshold you encourage a ‘race to the bottom’, with increasing numbers of people excluded as time goes by,” he said “By limiting the scheme we could see it eliminated in years to come.”

The Transport for Greater Manchester Committee also plans to write to MPs to defend the concessionary bus pass scheme.

But it's not just the old who feel vulnerable. I've previously blogged about the effects that subsidy reductions, service cuts and fare increases can have on the young. So I was interested to find that one organisation was actually calling for bus fares to be reduced to help unemployed young people.

That was one of the initiatives contained in a report this week from the Commission on Youth Unemployment, which also asked if bus subsidies really gave value for money. Their report noted: “Local government spends large sums of public money on transport subsidies, and bus companies make significant profits partly based on these subsidies, but it is not clear to us that councils are getting maximum bang for the public buck.”

The Commission called for the Department for Transport, local authorities, bus companies and community transport organisations to agree deals which let councils give young people access to cheaper transport on condition that they are involved in education or work, or are looking for employment.

There is something of a theme developing here. I keep coming across stories like this all over the country, and time and again the principal complainants are either the young and the elderly. That's not surprising, given that these two sectors of the population rely on buses and other public transport the most. But its worrying that these two groups are also the least well represented in parliament.

Many now believe that the weight of evidence against the Government's austerity programme – that it is having a disproportionately damaging effect on those who are most vulnerable whilst leaving the affluent relatively unaffected – seems to be growing. The three stories above, plus the others I have blogged about over the past month, seem to lend weight to that argument.

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