Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) (BUS 36)


—  —  The introduction of a concessionary bus travel scheme in England is widely regarded by older people as a positive benefit, not only to them as individual users, but also to society as a whole. It is therefore important that the overall value that the scheme provides is properly recognised.

—  —  There has been a certain amount of confusion as to the funding arrangements of the current scheme which has raised issues regarding the costs and benefits accruing to both local authorities and bus operating companies. These need to be clarified.

—  —  Whilst it is relatively early to provide extensive examples as to the impact that the Comprehensive Spending Review will have on bus services in England, it is possible to suggest that over the coming period there will be increases in fares, reductions in network coverage and a removal of those additional provisions that fall outside of the minimum statutory requirement covered by the Concessionary Bus Travel Act (2007). Of particular concern is the continuation of those community transport schemes that are vital in many rural areas where existing services are already limited.

—  —  Further research and investigation should be carried out later in the year to produce a more accurate picture of how the Comprehensive Spending Review and other factors are impacting on free off-peak travel services for older and disabled people.


1.1  The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) is Britain's largest pensioner organisation representing around 1.5 million older people, active in over 1,000 affiliated groups. The NPC is run by and for pensioners and campaigns for improvements to their income, health and welfare.

1.2 Since the introduction of the Concessionary Bus Travel Act (2007), in April 2008, England has enjoyed a locally administered bus pass that, whilst not providing a nationwide service, can be used for through journeys across the country.

1.3 The provision of free bus travel remains extremely popular with older people; allowing them not only to be socially included, but also to make a valuable contribution to their local communities. Any reduction in either the availability or entitlement to services will therefore have serious and detrimental effects on these users and society as a whole.


2.1  Since 2000, money was allocated to local government to fund the introduction of a half-price bus fare scheme. This money continues to be an ongoing payment and is not ring-fenced. Likewise, in 2002 additional money was made available to give men aged 60-64 the same concession as women of that age. In 2006, an additional £350 million was made available for the free, local-only bus travel and the Concessionary Bus Travel Act (2007) produced a further £212 million.

2.2  However, despite this funding, some local authorities have argued that the grants they receive are not sufficient to meet the cost of free bus travel, including that which arises as a result of tourists visiting the area. As a result, various stories have appeared in the media that claim services will have to be cut, or council tax is rising in order for pensioners to get free bus travel. This is both misleading and unfair.

2.3  The fact that there are four separate ongoing grants, none of which are ring-fenced, and that the formula for making the grants is complicated and not readily available to the public, means it is virtually impossible to guarantee whether or not the money is being used properly. Such confusion can then allow local authorities to claim they are under-funded and cut services. The implications of the cuts to funding as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review therefore only serve to make this situation worse.

2.4  In addition, under the 2007 Act, bus operators are supposed to be no better or worse off financially as a result of providing concessionary travel. However, experience has shown that by the way in which they calculate their fares, the different ways they issue their tickets and the way they have been able to alter routes to manipulate the market under the deregulated structure, the bus companies have been able to make considerable profits out of pensioner travel, alter services and make these changes without local authorities having any influence. This is something central and local government must address as it seriously undermines the credibility and viability of the scheme.

2.5  In the past, the excessively large number of Transport Concession Authorities (291) which have had to deal with a relatively small number of big and powerful bus companies simply weakened a local authority's ability to have any say over the cost of reimbursement for concessionary travel. In view of this, the government's intention in the future to simplify the arrangements on a county council basis is therefore to be welcomed.


3.1  In the present financial situation it is easy to suggest that older people should no longer have free bus travel, or that it should be means-tested as a way of saving money. However, this is a rather short-sighted and counterproductive argument that needs to be challenged. In its present form, the bus pass provides for free Off Peak bus travel (ie out of work hours) for leisure and pleasure, but in doing so offers clear benefits to society as a whole, as well as to individual users.

3.2  Concessionary travel enables older people to continue to lead independent lives and participate in the communities in which they live and the scheme should be part of society's commitment to involve older people. Justification for free travel should also acknowledge that we do not see older people as the problem. In fact, if older people were properly included in our society they would be part of the solution. For example, a vast amount of charity work and volunteer organisations have a high proportion of retired people taking part. Work done by volunteers saves the economy considerable sums of money; estimated to be well over £50 billion a year.

3.3  Furthermore, it is recognised that the social inclusion of older people and the chance to stay independent and active also brings reductions in the demand for health and care services—with a corresponding decrease in the cost of these services. By contrast, restricting access to concessionary travel would undoubtedly lead to increases in social isolation, loneliness, depression and higher demand for health and social care.

3.4  As well as benefiting the individual, it has also been shown that extra services that have been provided on some bus routes to cater for the increased pensioner demand, also improves services for all, with some bus companies enjoying an increase in non concessionary travel since the introduction of the concessionary scheme.

3.5  Encouraging older people out of their cars also has certain environmental benefits, as well as helping older people to spend their disposable income in local economies. Given the present economic situation, such things must be encouraged rather than curtailed.


4.1  On a practical note, it should be acknowledged that it is still relatively premature to provided specific examples where reductions or cuts to concessionary services have already been made as a result of the changes in the CSR. However, we can at this stage point to the factors that will have a detrimental effect, such as:

—  Major cuts in local authority spending.

—  Cut in the BSOG of 20%.

—  Economic slump, including unemployment, resulting in reduced bus patronage.

4.2  Research conducted by the NPC has already highlighted some potential long-term indicators of the effects we face:

—  National Express West Midlands has reported a loss of 7,000,000 passenger journeys in the last year.

—  As a result, fares will inevitably rise, which in turn will do little to increase passenger numbers or expand the bus network.

—  Bus services have been removed from some estates to concentrate on main corridors, resulting in a loss of network coverage and practical hardship for some individuals and communities.

—  Times between services are being extended, thus reducing overall numbers of buses, and increasing the waiting time of passengers, particularly when cancellations occur.

—  Existing provisions that fall outside the statutory minimum, such as free bus travel before 9.30 am, have reverted to the less generous legal requirement.

4.3  There are also specific concerns regarding the impact that cuts would have on community transport schemes, which are often seen as an alternative to bus travel, particularly in rural areas. The availability of schemes such as dial-a-ride and taxi-card is already being restricted and, as they fall outside the statutory requirements of the 2007 Act, are likely to be among the first casualties of reductions in local authority funding. However, these services remain of vital importance to individuals with restricted mobility or in areas where traditional bus services are either limited or non-existent. Removing this essential lifeline will therefore have a devastating impact on these users.

4.4  Bus companies may also begin to review their access standards to socially necessary services, by raising the minimum patronage threshold and/or lengthening the maximum walk distance to a bus service. Either or both of these would generate savings for the company, but at the expense of network coverage and access to some of our most vulnerable older citizens.


5.1  There remains a view that the provision of the concessionary bus travel scheme is a benefit solely to the individual, rather than as something which can also benefit local communities. It is important that reducing the funding to such a scheme is not therefore seen as a painless option. There are currently an estimated 8m bus pass holders; and a significant proportion have either limited access to alternative transport or mobility problems. Cuts to services will therefore be felt widely across the country.

5.2  There is a urgent need for a greater understanding of the complexity of the finance associated with the concessionary travel scheme and for the Department for Transport to simplify the financial arrangements to achieve a greater transparency, auditing and control over how the grants for concessionary travel are being used.

5.3  In the meantime, the NPC has already conducted some initial research into the changes taking place to existing bus service provision, and plan to carry out further research later in 2011. The Select Committee may also wish to re-visit this inquiry once more experience and data is available.

January 2011

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Prepared 11 August 2011