Making longer journeys is about to get more difficult for many older people. From 1 November 2011 older people will not be able to benefit from a 50% discount to coach travel.
At the moment coach operators claim subsidies in return for offering a half-price concession to older and disabled people. The move to end this arrangement was quietly announced by the government in an annex to the Department for Transport’s Spending Review last year.
We have heard concerns from older people who depend on the coach concession to get out and about, to see friends and family or travel further afield if they wish. Removing the concession will mean higher prices and some people will think twice before travelling. People in later life that are at risk of facing loneliness and social isolation will be further put off from leaving their home.
The increased cost will also have an effect on demand, which in turn could mean some coach services are no longer viable. National Express run 18 routes where 32-51% of passengers receive concessions. This is a particular concern on some rural routes where concessionary passengers currently make up a significant proportion of travellers. Without their custom the route may not be able to run.
Pressure on public transport
The implications of removing the concession should also be seen in the context of other changes to public transport. Over the last couple of weeks we have seen reports of rising rail prices and cuts to subsidies that keep bus services running. For people without access to private transport the options for affordable travel are becoming more and more limited.
It has been reported that the government has to make this cut to meet the budget deficit. While we recognise that something has to give, the cut to the coach concession feels arbitrary with no proper consideration of the impacts. There has been no public consultation on the change to coach concessions, which means disabled and older people have been excluded from the debate and decision-making process.
The government should seriously consider delaying plans to cut the concession to allow enough time to consult properly with both concession pass holders and operators. With proper consideration an alternative solution could be agreed.
Age UK is working with Disability Alliance and Campaign for Better Transport to make sure the government recognises the impact this will have on older and disabled passengers.