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Free bus travel in Norfolk could be cut

County council leaders have admitted they could have to reduce the hours of concessionary bus fares in Norfolk unless the government pumps money into the scheme.

Norfolk County Council is taking on responsibility for administering the free travel scheme for people eligible for bus passes next year – but warned a lack of cash could see an hour stripped off the times the passes are valid. People with concessionary bus passes, such as pensioners and disabled people, can currently travel on buses free from 8.30am – an hour earlier than the statutory requirement – to 11pm on Mondays to Fridays and at all times on weekends and bank holidays.

That is because the district and city councils agreed to extend the hours beyond the statutory minimum, but the county council is ready to rethink in the face of cuts in government funding.

In May last year Norwich City Council axed the extra hour it offered bus users between 8.30am and 9.30am, but it was restored this year. But, at a meeting of the county council’s environment and transport scrutiny panel in the summer, members warned nationwide spending cuts could affect the times when bus travel is free.

The county council has been running an online consultation over the scheme ahead of it taking on responsibility for administering the bus pass scheme from next April.

Two of the questions in the consultation survey concern which times people use their passes for free bus travel and if they do use it before 9.30am for which reason – be it shopping, leisure, getting to health appointments or travelling to or from work.

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for travel and transport, said: “The point is that we do not know what the government will give us and if the money to run the scheme as it currently operates will be there. At the moment it is more generous than the statutory minimum and if the government does not give us the money we will need to look at whether we reduce those hours.”

The scheme currently costs about £10m a year in reimbursements to bus operators, plus about £150,000 in other costs, while the extra hour in the mornings costs about £750,000 more. The county council says it is consulting because it is a new responsibility for the council and it wants to ensure the council offers “an affordable scheme”.

Carl Grint, spokesman for the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People said he hoped they would take on board the views of the people who use the passes.

He said: “The government speaks of wanting those on benefits, which disproportionately affects disabled people, to move to the workplace, yet measures such as these will make it harder for disabled people to afford to work.”

Edith Pocock, president of the Norfolk and Norwich Pensioners Association, said she thought starting the concessionary bus fares at 9.30am was reasonable because not a lot of older people use the bus before 9.30am.

The consultation process, which has been running since August, ends tomorrow. The consultation can be found on the county council’s website at www.engagespace.co.uk/engage/norfolk/default.aspx

What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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