Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

5  Concessionary travel scheme

47. Since the introduction of free concessionary travel in 2006, the number of over-60s who have taken up concessionary fares passes has risen from 56% in 2005 to 76% in 2009. The proportion of people aged 60 and over who said they use a local bus at least once a week increased from 28% to 39% over the same period.[112] We heard a great deal of evidence about the value of the concessionary fares scheme. One pass holder said that the majority of pass holders believed that the pass made a "substantial difference to the quality of their lives".[113] The government has on occasions expressed a commitment to measuring the success of its policies through their impact on "well-being" as well as on economic factors. The TAS Partnership conducted work that found the cost of the concessionary fares scheme was lower than the value to the passenger in terms of benefit, so it was "a good thing to have socially".[114] Research conducted in 2010 by Ipsos Mori on behalf of Age UK asked over-65s which services used by older people should be spared in the Spending Review. The concessionary bus pass received more support than the winter fuel payment, care for frail and disabled people and post offices; only the state pension and the NHS were considered more precious.[115] Concessionary pass holders told us of the health and social benefits the scheme provided.[116] A 63-year old man from Somerset said the free pass enabled him to travel to do voluntary work in Exeter and other locations, the costs of which would otherwise be passed on to voluntary organisations via expenses claims.[117] A former bus driver argued that bus operators were wrong to imply that they would be financially better off without the scheme because the vast majority of journeys would not have been made without the pass,[118] although we also heard evidence of occasions when fare-paying passengers had been unable to get on a bus because it was full of concessionary pass holders.[119]

Mr T Reese, Somerset, 63: "I use the free concessionary travel whenever possible, and it enables to me to make bus journeys which otherwise I may not be able to afford."

Mr T Kirby, Leicestershire: "It is crucial. It makes a difference between the number of journeys I could make and I probably could not make because of personal circumstances in some ways."

Mr M Simpkin, Sheffield: "For me the bus pass is a huge liberator. "

Mrs H Whitaker, North Yorkshire: "I am 92 years of age, and the free bus pass is a great help and necessity to and from our area, and is much appreciated by our age group. I live in a bungalow at the foot of Rombalds Moor, I can manage to walk down but find it impossible to walk uphill, therefore the free bus service (Horse Close) is a boon. "

Mr P Cowlyn, Somerset: "Many local shops (especially tea shops!) say that business has really improved since the passes came in".

48. Several witnesses, including concessionary pass holders, questioned whether the scheme remained affordable in the current financial context. The TAS Partnership argued that it seemed "perverse to protect concessionary free travel at all costs when the offer of free travel could be irrelevant if there is no service available to significant numbers of potential passengers".[120] Bus Users UK and the Campaign for Better Transport said that many people at their bus surgeries would prefer to pay a discounted fare rather than see their local bus service withdrawn, a point echoed by other witnesses including concessionary pass holders.[121] One bus operator has reportedly asked pass holders to voluntarily pay for their bus fare in order to save a local bus route.[122] Other bus users said that their free pass had been devalued already due to local bus service withdrawals,[123] and some councils had reduced discretionary elements of local concessionary fares schemes.[124] Some witnesses, including bus users, believed the scheme needed to be reviewed or curtailed.[125] Technological improvements, including the use of smartcards, were highlighted as a means by which usage could be restricted.[126]

Mrs J Thompson, Hartlepool: "Whilst the government has not amended the concessionary fares scheme, users have in effect been disenfranchised by the withdrawal of services at 7pm and on Sundays".

Mrs Hare, Elwick Village, Hartlepool: "My husband and I have free passes but they are not much use since the council has withdrawn our local bus service".

49. Norman Baker MP told us that ministers had considered the concessionary fares scheme "very carefully" during the Spending Review. He confirmed that the Government would not change the entitlement for the free pass for the "foreseeable future". When questioned further, the Minister said that "theoretically, if you were going to do something at all, you would have a flat fare to be paid either for a journey or a flat fare for the pass each year, because that could be administered relatively cheaply", although he stressed that this was not the policy. Means-testing, on the other hand, would be "enormously expensive", "negate the benefits of the pass" and costly for local authorities and the Government to administer.[127]

50. It is obvious that the concessionary fares scheme is highly valued by users and the evidence suggests the scheme provides a number of social, economic and environmental benefits. There is likely to be scope for further cost savings in the management and administration of the scheme, particularly with advancements in smartcard technology, and there may be a case for a one-off payment for the card. We strongly believe, however, that the provision of free bus travel for the elderly and disabled is to be valued. We endorse the Government's commitment to protecting the entitlement.

51. The concessionary fares scheme has been the subject of more research of late, but it is clear that more robust and detailed data is required about the benefits and usage of the scheme to inform the development of future policy. Recent research by the University of Leeds suggested that fewer than 3% of passholders account for more than a quarter of all concessionary trips, although the study was based on only a five-week period.[128] Passenger Focus has conducted research that shows that 39% of older bus pass holders made a greater number of local journeys by bus than before they obtained their passes.[129] Age UK said that there was an "opportunity to do more research" to find out exactly about usage of the scheme.[130] The ongoing development of smartcard technology was cited as a means to gather further evidence.[131] We recommend that the Department of Transport commission further detailed research into the benefits, and usage, of the concessionary fares scheme.

112   Department for Transport, National Travel Survey, tables NTS0619, NTS0621 Back

113   Q 238 Back

114   Q 23 Back

115   Age UK and Ipsos Mori, Live Polling Results: Are We Prepared For An Ageing Society?, October 2010 Back

116   Ev w26, paras 1.6-1.6.1; Ev w111 Back

117   Ev w123, para 6 Back

118   Ev w140 Back

119   Q 239 Back

120   Ev 105, para 1.6 Back

121   Qq 77, 237; Ev 61, para 3.2; Ev w138, w146, w148 Back

122   "Concessionary fares a hot topic as EYMS asks pass holders to pay", Passenger Transport, 27 May 2011, Issue 007, p 6 Back

123   Ev w135 Back

124   Ev w146 Back

125   Ev w130, w141 Back

126   Ev w80, para 29 Back

127   Qq 261-62 Back

128   Based on analysis of smartcard data. Ev w80, para 10 Back

129   Passenger Focus, England-wide Concessionary Bus Travel: the Passenger Perspective, July 2009, p 8 Back

130   Q 79. See also Ev w80, para 9 Back

131   Ev 147, para 28; Ev 147, para 28 Back

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Prepared 11 August 2011