COUNTY councillors are to reconsider a decision on how a national concessionary bus pass scheme will be made available in Suffolk.
Suffolk County Council cabinet members will reconsider whether or not to enhance the basic scheme which provides free travel between 09:30 and 23:00 on weekdays, and all day at weekends and bank holidays, for older people and those with disabilities.
It follows an earlier decision taken in July this year in which councillors opted to double value of travel vouchers but not extend eligibility times over and above the government-funded minimum.
The decision was later ‘called in’ by the council’s Scrutiny Committee because of concerns over how much consultation had taken place and whether or not a full Equality Impact Assessment had been carried out. Following the meeting, the committee asked the Cabinet to reconsider the decision in light of the concerns raised.
Consultation with pass holders, representative groups and bus operators was carried out following the referral back to Cabinet. 2492 responses were received. The responses show that for people eligible due to age and disability, the most common use of the passes before 09:30 would be for shopping and socialising. 5% of those with disabilities stated they would use the pass to go to work. 46% of people said increasing the value of the vouchers was important or very important. 38% felt the move wasn’t very important.
When asked to give general comments, 39% of people said they did not want any changes to be made to the free travel scheme and 17% said they found the start time too restrictive, especially for those attending medical appointments.
Using responses from the consultation, a second Equality Impact Assessment screening was carried out on 30 November 2012. The assessment found that whilst any decision not to enhance the scheme would have an affect on people, the impact would be minimal and could be mitigated by closer working with medical practitioners and any increased value of the travel vouchers.
Councillor Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member responsible for roads, planning and transport, said:
“People’s access to public transport is a key issue so it’s important that we get the decision on how we deliver this national scheme right. That is why I welcome the scrutiny and additional consultation this decision had undergone.
“We will not be considering this until 11 December which will give all cabinet members and opportunity to review the information. The decision will have to balance the needs of service users and the financial implications of any enhancements.”
The estimated extra annual cost of the enhancements are:
In 2011/12, it cost £7.85 million to operate the scheme.