Ms Essex said: 'The national assembly has already made funds available for local councils to provide half price bus fares for pensioners, in line with our long-standing commitment, but pensioners often have to pay an annual fee, such as£5, for their pass.
'The abolition of charging for bus passes goes beyond this commitment, and in addition, people with disabilities will benefit as well,' she said. Local bus services are a life line for people in communities across Wales.
Today's announcement means that using buses will become easier and cheaper for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
'This initiative shows devolution delivering, in co-oporation with local government, to make a real difference to the quality of life of the people of Wales.'
The assembly is committed to introduce free concessionary travel for pensioners on buses in Wales on 1 April 2002. A concessionary travel steering group including representatives of the Welsh Local Government Association, the Welsh Consumer Council, the Community Transport Association, the Wales Tourist Board and bus operators has been examining the practical and financial implications of this policy for the Assembly, local government and bus operators.
The group has presented its report to the assembly secretary for the environment.
A formal consultation exercise on the details of the report including groups representing pensioners, disabled people and the voluntary sector will be undertaken shortly, and copies of the group's report will be available on request from the assembly. Following careful consideration of the responses, Ms Essex will announce her decisions on the implementation of free concessionary travel on buses in Wales.