Bus pass support is gathering speed

A RALLYING cry has been made to people in Great Yarmouth to continue to show their support for a campaign to plug a funding shortfall for concessionary bus passes.

Mary Richards, passenger transport operations manager for Norfolk County Council, praised the growing support she had received for the Fares Fair campaign after collecting more than 4,500 signatures in two hours during a visit to Yarmouth.

But the county council is keen to gain more support and has urged people to put their name to the Fairs Fare petition, which will soon be appearing on every First bus service in the borough of Great Yarmouth.

Currently, 9,000 people across Norfolk have signed the petition, with a target of securing 10,000 in the next five weeks before an effort is made to lobby central government.

The shortfall of �4.5m exists because the county council only receives �7.7m from the government to pay back bus companies for the older and disabled people who use bus passes get free off-peak travel in Norfolk, yet the cost of reimbursing those companies is �11.6m.

There are 180,000 passholders in Norfolk, and 20,000 in the borough of Great Yarmouth, and the shortfall means the county council has already axed an extra discretionary hour which previously saw passholders get free travel from 8.30am, rather than the current 9.30am.

Mrs Richards spoke to residents during a public meeting held by the East Norfolk Transport Users Association at St Paul’s Church Hall, Yarmouth, on Wednesday.

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She said: “We want to send a strong message to central government that we have had enough of this. The Yarmouth people have been so passionate about the campaign that we will be coming back to gather more signatures.

“There was a queue of people waiting to sign the petition last time because they had read about it in the Mercury. But I do want to reassure people that the concessionary bus pas scheme will not be ending - we have to provide the scheme by law.

“But it does mean that because of the shortfall we can only offer the very basic scheme.”

Meanwhile, the battle to get �4.5m from the government to cover the cost of concessionary bus travel has gone national, with Devon County Council and two other councils joining the fight for fair funding.

Council bosses say the support of other councils and transport groups would strengthen the message to government that it is not fair to keep short-changing local authorities.

The e-petition can be signed via the front page of the county council’s website at www.norfolk.gov.uk.