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Pensioners offer to ‘subsidise’ rural bus services in North Yorkshire
9:27am Saturday 21st December 2013 in News
Rural pensioners have offered to pay towards their bus fares in a bid to save threatened services – only to be told Government policy makes this impossible.
North Yorkshire County Council is grappling with where to cut subsidised bus services as it reduces its bus subsidy by 25 per cent, equivalent to £1.1 million a year, following Government cuts.
It spends £4.4m a year subsidising 20 per cent of non-commercially viable journeys. North Yorkshire is particularly affected with a population over a large area and a large elderly population.
The council’s transport overview and scrutiny committee discussed a report on its consultations on Thursday. More than 1,600 people protested, with 15 petitions and 29 letters from MPs sent to the council.
Councillors expressed concern about the impact on vulnerable and elderly people. Many also said residents with bus passes were offering to pay voluntary contributions.
In a statement, County Councillor David Jeffels said there seemed to be “quite considerable support from older generations to make contributions”.
However, chairman of the meeting, Robert Packham, said the council was legally unable to allow people to pay towards the cost as it was Government policy to provide free bus passes for older people.
He said people were suggesting they would pay a contribution of about 50p to £1, but not the fare, which was not legally possible.
“The only option is that people don’t use their pass and pay a full fare. They’re faced with a £3.50 to £4 fare which is more than they feel reasonable to contribute. That’s the dilemma.”
He said the only solution was to make representations to Government.
Coun John Clark said cutting bus services would potentially increase costs for social services by leaving some people isolated, and said the focus should not just be on preserving services for rural, isolated communities.
“You can be just as isolated if you live one mile from the town centre in Pickering as someone 15 miles in the hills if you can’t walk that one mile to get to the doctors or hairdressers,” he said.
He said if elderly people became cut off and unable to perform basic tasks such as shopping, social services would have to step in at greater cost.
“The cost for caring for that person becomes greater than the bus subsidy for the whole town for the whole year.”
The committee decided to look at finding funding through commercial sponsorship and set up a working group to explore the issues.
They also said possible future funding reductions needed to be considered.
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