MPs have reiterated Age UK’s concern that cuts to subsidies that keep bus routes open will have a huge impact on older people.
In the Transport Committee’s report Bus Services after the Spending Review they warn that a combination of spending cuts is creating the “greatest financial challenge for the English bus industry for a generation”.
The changes include reduction in local authorities’ revenue expenditure, changes to the Department for Transport’s concessionary fares reimbursement guidance, and a 20% reduction in Bus Spending Operators Grant.
Free local bus travel is a lifeline for many older and disabled people who use it to get to the GP or hospital appointment, to go shopping and visit friends. Cutting bus routes leads many to lose their only independent access to transport.
The Committee are calling on government to monitor and review the impact of spending cuts.
They also made a series of practical suggestions for local authorities, including:
- Local people should have the opportunity to voice their opinion if the local authority or integrated transport authority proposes significant changes to bus services that it supports.
- Greater partnership working between local authorities, bus operators and community transport operators will be necessary post-Spending Review, in order to better utilise diminished resources.
In the rush to meet short terms spending challenges local authorities should not ignore the benefits of working with local people to find a better solution to transport problems. For instance, finding innovative uses for existing transport like school buses and community transport.
The Committee also suggests the government should legislate to permit the use of the concessionary pass on a wider use of community transport schemes.
It is important that the increasing role of community transport is recognised. Where private travel is not possible and the public transport system does not fully serve the needs of older people in the area, we believe local authorities should provide financial support towards community transport or taxis.
As we know, there is little point in having a free pass if there are insufficient buses to use.