Extending the scope of concessionary
94. The concessionary travel scheme is in danger
of becoming a victim of its own success and there are calls for
it to be extended to other modes of transport and to other categories
of people. The National Pensioners Convention is seeking "free
nationwide travel on all public and local transport". This
would give concessionaires greater choice and would include tram,
rail and community transport services and tokens for taxis.
95. Many local authorities continue to use their
powers under the Transport Act 1985 to enhance the national concessionary
travel scheme for older and disabled people living locally. Typically,
the passenger transport executives will provide concessionary
travel on local trams and trains; other councils permit travel
before 9.30am; and in rural areas some councils provide tokens
for taxis or allow concessions on community transport or dial-a-ride
services. This can cause confusion and accusations of 'postcode
lottery' but this is an inevitable corollary of allowing local
96. The Government's view is that this is a matter
for local authorities. For example, regarding rail "The Government
recognises that there will be people, particularly in rural areas,
who have better access to a rail service than to a bus service.
It remains open to local authorities to provide free travel by
rail in such circumstances."
Travel Watch SouthWest and others have pointed out that, in some
areas, free bus travel has abstracted significant numbers of passengers
from local rail services, which makes no sense as both receive
97. Help the Aged, the Joint Committee for the Mobility
of Blind and Partially Sighted People, the Community Transport
Association and other groups representing older and disabled people
argue for a range of specific extensions to the national scheme.
They point out that conventional buses are, in practice, not accessible
to many older and disabled people and so the neediest are often
unable to take up the concession to which they are entitled. This
is not simply a lack of low-floor buses but a more fundamental
point that many people entitled to concessionary travel find it
difficult, if not imposable, to use public transport.
Separate grants are available to people with more severe mobility
impairment but these are much more limited and the freedom the
freedom to travel at no cost, nationwide, is denied to them. These
groups also make a cogent case for widening the range of people
entitled to concessionary travel to on grounds of mental health
98. We continue to believe that local enhancements
to the national concessionary travel scheme can offer important
benefits. We agree with the Passenger Transport Executive Group
and others that these enhancements are best determined locally.
Extending concessionary travel to rail services would be costly
and it is doubtful if rail services currently have adequate capacity.
There may be scope and a good value-for-money case for extending
the national concession to include lightly-used rail services,
such as community rail partnerships, as in Wales. The Government
should also consider in greater depth than it has so far the costs
and implications of providing greater support for community transport,
particularly in areas where bus services are sparse. Where local
authorities are currently profiting from concessionary travel
funding, perhaps as a result of a sparse local bus network, they
should be encouraged to enhance local concessionary travel arrangements.
99. Concessionary travel schemes have been linked
with major ticketing changes. In Scotland, where free national
concessionary bus travel was introduced in 2003, the concessionary
travel pass forms part of the Citizen smartcard (an ITSO-compliant
card) which has other potential applications. In England, the
Government has stipulated that the new travel passes (issued by
the local travel concession authorities) must be ITSO smartcards.
If and when buses are equipped to read the concessionary fare
smartcards that have been issued, the operators should be able
to handle local enhancements more easily. The current situation
whereby 11 million concessionary travel smartcards have been issued
but most buses are not equipped to read them is daft. The Government
needs to agree a programme with bus operators for installation
of ITSO smartcard equipment on buses.
100. There is a good case to be made for concessionary
travel to be extended to other groups. Many young people and those
on low incomes find bus fares expensive. In 2002, the Commission
for Integrated Transport advised that greater benefits would be
achieved at lower cost by extending half-fares to young people
and those on low incomes, rather than free travel for those over
60. It is unclear
why the Government ignored this advice. Local authorities have
a well-being power.
If the Local Transport Bill is enacted as proposed, the well-being
power will be extended to passenger transport executives. Amongst
other things, this permits these authorities to provide travel
concessions for other groups of people. Implementation, however,
depends very much on local priorities and the availability of
local funding, which is unlikely if they are struggling to pay
for existing concessionary travel schemes. If the Government is
minded at any stage to extend the English national concessionary
travel scheme, young people and others identified by the Commission
for Integrated Transport should receive priority consideration
for concessionary travel.