Exclusive: Councils spend £100m to make one in three Yorkshire bus trips free

Nearly a third of all bus journeys taken in Yorkshire are free concessions at a cost of £100m to the public purse, an investigation by The Yorkshire Post has revealed.

Saturday, 6th August 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:21 pm
The Little White Bus makes its way through Upper Wensleydale

This figure is even higher for part of the county - with nearly half all journeys in North Yorkshire - 43 per cent - being concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled.

The revelation comes at a time when cuts are being made to services, sparking fears that the elderly and vulnerable are to be left with a free pass - but no bus to travel on.

“Inevitably there will be no services left to actually subsidise,” said Coun John Blackie, North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) member for Hawes.

“Quite clearly, local authorities will have to cut back and cut back. It undermines the very point of the scheme itself.”

Bob Rackley, commercial manager at bus company EYMS in Hull, said the Government’s concessionary fares scheme, while well-intentioned, is ill-thought out in practice.

“This doesn’t stack up at a time of major public spending cuts,” he said. “Soon, people will have a free pass and no bus to catch

“It does seem wrong that local government is paying out such a large sum of money for free travel when they are making cuts to things like social services.”

Concessionary passes allow free travel for the elderly and vulnerable to ensure they are not left isolated, but the deficit leaves many local authorities with a funding black hole.

The latest figures from the Department for Transport show that payment comes at a cost of millions, with Yorkshire councils subsidising concessions on 654m bus journeys since 2009.

Transport authorities across Yorkshire, when approached by The Post over the sums spent, have said it is impossible to identify the exact deficit as Government funding for the scheme comes from a wider transport pot.

Many have said that, because of this, it is impossible to link wider cuts to bus services to funding the concessionary scheme. But several have conceded it is a “challenge” to fill the gap in overall budgets.

“The costs of the scheme are a significant burden on council budgets,” Ian Fielding, assistant director of transport for NYCC said. “It’s a pressure on the whole budget, not just the buses.

“It is a challenge. The consequence is that that amount is not available elsewhere.”

The Local Government Authority has called on the Government to step in with more funds to stop local services being lost.

And campaigners say the simplest solution is to let passengers pay a partial fare if they want to - which is currently against the Government rules.

“Concessionary passes are issued to elderly and vulnerable people - and it’s these people that need the service most,” said Coun Blackie.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, concessionary fares passengers would be willing to make a token donation. But of course the Government will not allow it.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “We expect local authorities to take into account the needs of passengers when planning which services to fund, and we are providing £40m to local authorities through the Bus Service Operator Grant this year to help support them with this.

“We also remain committed to the National Concession bus scheme which allows nearly 10m older and disabled people in England to use local off-peak bus services for free, so they can be as independent as possible.”