May 25 2013 Latest news:
By Paul Geater
Thursday, September 20, 2012
A NEW row is brewing over concessionary bus fares in Suffolk amid opposition claims the county council could extend the scheme to all hours for disabled people without breaching the budget.
The issue of concessionary fares is to be debated by the county’s scrutiny committee again next week after the opposition Liberal Democrats objected to restrictions on the use of tickets.
At present, free bus passes can only be used after 9.30am every day.
The Lib Dems want the time to be brought forward to 9am for all pass holders – and for the limit to be abolished altogether for the 7,000 people in the county with bus passes because they have a disability.
Lib Dem transport spokeswoman Caroline Page said this could be achieved without any budgetary concerns.
She said: “The council allocated £8.6million for its concessionary fares, but it is likely to spend only £7.8m.
“Given the number of passes for people with disability, the restrictions could be eased without any impact on the budget.”
The Lib Dems have argued that the decision to restrict the use of bus passes for disabled people to after 9.30am effectively meant cutting them off from the world of work.
Many people with disabilities are unable to drive, walk or cycle to work – and are not able to earn as much as other employees.
County councillor with responsibility for transport, Guy McGregor, said the amount spent on the concessionary fares scheme was likely to be less than was originally budgeted for – but changes in the way the Government allocated money meant there would still be a cash squeeze on that area of spending.
“Ultimately, we have a sharply-defined amount of money available and if we spend more on concessionary fares there will be less to spend on keeping other services running,” he said.
He had spoken to his cabinet colleague Colin Noble, who is responsible for adult services, and had been told there was no evidence that the restrictions on concessionary fares had any impact on people with disabilities’ ability to get to work.