A Bill to equalise the entitlement to concessionary travel for men and women
at the age of 60 - by reducing the statutory qualifying age for men from 65 -
However, MPs from all parts of the house expressed concerns that if
sufficient funding was not forthcoming from government some existing
concessionary fares schemes might be reduced or withdrawn.
Legislation requiring local authorities to offer a minimum of 50% reductions
for elderly and disabled people came into force earlier this year,
benefitting 5.5 pensioners and 1.5 million disabled people in England and
wales. The Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill will enable a further one
million men aged between 60 and 64 to share the benefits of concessionary
Transport minister John Spellar said local authorities must give half-price or
better concessionary travel subject to the person obtaining a permit, which
must be given free of charge. They also had discretion to offer further
concessions on bus and other transport services, such as local trains,
metros, ferries or the London Underground, and they may also provide
concessionary ytravel outside their boundaries if they wished.
Shadow transport minister Eric Pickles said Conservatives who not oppose the
Bill, which has already passed its lords stages, but they had reservations
'founded on the law of unintended consequences'. They were worried the Bill
might adversley affect some existing discretionary schemes or that existing
beneficiaries of age-related scheme got a poorer deal.
The worst that could happen was that the scheme became boggeed down in
arguments about the formula. The Local Government Association believed the
DTLR might have underestimated the effects.
Provision of£54m - slightly more than the original estimate of£47m - was made for the cost of the schemes introduced earlier this year.
The DTLR estimated the additional requirement under the present Bill would
Mr Pickles said it was reasonable for the LGA to ask for transitional
measures to ease problems which some authorities might face. He said£15m was allocated to the London boroughs to cover the cost of
equalisation for the 'freedom pass'. Because of the way the grant system and
its mechanisms worked, they rceived only£11m, leaving the council
taxpayer to fill the gap.
Liberal Democrat spokesman Don Foster said the local government associations
believed the government's estimates of the likely additional cost of the
measure might be inadequate.
He said there was an opportunity to widen the categories of people who could
be helped through concessary fares schemes, such as young people in further
education, and encourage cross-boundary travel.
Mr Foster added: 'I recognise that the government, too, wish to make progress
in developing a national scheme, examining all the various schemes that
currently exist and finding more ways of establishing integration between
Hansard 5 Nov: Column 30-43