A financial ‘timebomb’ caused by the concessionary fares scheme could see spending slashed on other aspects of local transport.
That warning has come from the Passenger Transport executive Group (PTEG), which said the scheme’s costs were rising sharply – by some 30% since 2010 - despite a 27% fall in government funding between 2010 and 2015.
The scheme was launched in its present form in 2008 and allows free bus travel for retired or disabled people.
Councils must pick up the cost of reimbursing bus operators, and in theory this commitment is covered by the government.
PTEG, which represents the metropolitan area transport bodies, said paying for the scheme already absorbed half of its members’ spending and by 2022 could leave only 25% of their resources for their other projects, including off-peak bus services, dial-a-ride and support for walking and cycling.
David Wood (Lab), chair of its urban transport authorities group, said: “The national concessionary fares scheme allows older and disabled people to retain their independence, to access shops and services, and visit friends and family. It is of great value.
“However, it cannot be right that the cost of providing what is a national statutory scheme, determined by national government, should create such a heavy funding burden for transport authorities in a way that threatens the future of the services that we provide for all members of our communities.
“There will be little point in a free pass if the bus services that older people are using have to be withdrawn to pay for it.”
Paul Woods, director of finance and resources at Newcastle City Council, warned in LGC in May that “some authorities now face such large gaps between funding and the cost of the statutory scheme that their ability to continue to fund free concessionary travel is unsustainable without huge cuts to the secure bus network or cuts in other key services”.