Brown challenged on bus passes

Nick Cater

Community transport charities are urging Chancellor Gordon Brown to stop discriminating against disabled and elderly people in his £350m support for free bus passes.

The Community Transport Association, which represents 5,000 local providers of minibus and car services across the UK, carrying ten million passengers a year, is lobbying central and local government on bus funding.

It warns that although free bus passes for disabled people and the over-60s, first announced by Brown in his 2005 Budget, will be a statutory requirement for local authorities, funding for community transport to reach those who cannot use buses because of age or disability is discretionary.

A statement from the association urges full funding for community transport charities that carry passengers who are technically eligible for the concessionary bus scheme, but unable to take advantage of it in practice.

Ewan Jones, deputy chief executive of the association, said that, without additional support for community transport, free bus passes would mainly benefit those who are more mobile or affluent, excluding many who are already disadvantaged.

He added that other issues could complicate the problem, such as efforts by primary care trusts and ambulance services to cut back on their free car services for disabled, elderly or sick people who need access to medical consultations and treatment.

Community transport charities could be squeezed between inadequate funding and the pressures of extra demand from the poor, the sick, the elderly and disabled people, Jones added.

In Somerset, the charity Mendip Community Transport has already been adversely affected by the new bus concessions.

A 50 per cent subsidy for its volunteer driver service, which ferries pensioners to hospital, was cut overnight to a cap of £6 per journey.

The charity says it has seen some clients cancel their bookings and fears the poorest pensioners may decide to miss vital hospital treatment because of higher fares.

- See Opinion, page 24


- Gordon Brown's support for free bus passes has come under fire from community transport charities

- The groups point out that funding for bus passes is a statutory requirement, but funding for community transport is discretionary

- The Community Transport Association says that free bus passes would mainly benefit the affluent and mobile.

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