Cornwall Council's cabinet today confirmed that no bus routes would be cut for the next two years but also voted to ask the Government to be allowed to pilot a flat rate 50p charge for 'free' bus pass holders.
The first decision is, of course, very welcome as I blogged yesterday. But there is a high degree of concern that we will be going through the process again in just two years and routes may be under threat again then. The instinct of other authorities has been to cut. As Cllr Hicks (an avid reader of this blog) pointed out, Conservative run Somerset County Council has cut 25 rural bus routes recently.
The flat rate charge is very concerning for me. Although it was only introduced by the last Labour Government, I know that there are many pass holders who simply could not get about if they were forced to pay a charge. Of course there are other pass holders who are relatively well off and could afford to pay. Some have apparently been calling Radio Cornwall to say so. But the option of them paying for some, or all, journeys has always been there. There is no compulsion to use a free pass even if you have one.
But for those older people and those with disabilities who cannot afford to pay, the ability to get about for free using a pass is essential. And as my colleague Cllr Pat Rogerson said, you often have to use more than one bus to make a journey. So a person travelling from a village outside Bodmin to Treliske Hospital might have to use eight buses on their return journey and to pay 50p each time.
The impact on the poorest people in our society has not yet been assessed, but already the Cabinet member is mentally spending the £2.9 million he reckons that such a scheme could raise. I hope that the Council reconsider this proposal and will consider that it should be altered to retain the right to free travel for the poorest pensioners and people with disabilities.