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Cut-price bus fares for children and pensioners at risk in £14m West Midlands transportation cuts plan

Cut-price bus fares for children and pensioners at risk in £14m West Midlands transportation cuts plan

🕔20.Nov 2013

Cut-price bus travel for children may be scrapped in Birmingham and the West Midlands as the passenger transport authority Centro grapples with delivering huge spending cuts.

Making under-16s pay the full adult fare instead of half is one of several “tough choices” being considered by the transport body, which has to find £14 million of budget savings.

Free travel for pensioners and disabled people on trams and trains could also disappear, and funding for the Ring and Ride bus service for passengers with mobility problems may be reduced.

Imposing full fares on children would be a highly sensitive political decision, placing additional costs on families across the region. Attempts in the past to abandon subsidies for children and pensioners have been rejected by councillors, but the scale of Centro’s budgetary problems will make it difficult to avoid pulling the plug on free and cut-price travel.

Centro will meet on November 25 to decide how to deal with a ten per cent cut to its funding – equivalent to reducing by a quarter the amount of ‘discretionary’ spending that it controls directly.

Public consultation is likely on a range of possible service reductions, including:

– Children to pay two-thirds of the adult fare on buses instead of half.
– Removing free local rail and tram travel for eligible people, or introducing a nominal annual charge of around £30.
– Reducing the grant to Ring and Ride.
– Reducing the number of taxpayer funded bus services.
– Removing the locally funded ‘add on’ which allows eligible people to travel free on buses after 11pm.

Further options to fully achieve the proposed ten per cent reduction would include completely stopping Centro funding for Ring and Ride or for child bus fare concessions.

Pressure to identify the savings is coming from the seven West Midlands district councils – Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton – who are passing on government-imposed cuts to their own budgets.

Centro says has already saved nearly a third of its operational expenditure over the last four years without impacting on frontline services for passengers.

Centro chairman Cllr John McNicholas said: “These are difficult options and if implemented would have a significant impact on the travelling public.

“That’s why it’s so important for people to tell us through the forthcoming consultation where they think we should make the savings and what effect those reductions would have on the way they travel.”

Cllr Roger Lawrence, chair of the West Midlands Joint Committee, which is made up of the seven West Midlands council leaders, added: “Right across the country local authorities are being forced to make extremely tough choices because of the spending cuts being imposed by Government.

“The West Midlands is no exception and all areas of expenditure including transport need to be looked at to see where potential savings can be made.

“The options are not easy but I’m afraid this is the financial reality that has been imposed upon local government.”

Cllr McNicholas said a ten per cent budget reduction would mean an inescapable impact on front line services because of the level of Centro expenditure required by law.

Of the current £146 million a year budget more than £87 million, or 60 per cent, is used to pay for financing charges and legally required free travel for older people, the blind and those with mobility needs.

Cllr McNicholas said an overall £14 million reduction would therefore have to come from the remaining £59 million which was equivalent to cutting the discretionary budget by nearly a quarter.

Buses provide 92 per cent of public transport journeys in the West Midlands and account for nearly one million journeys a day. There are a number of operators, the largest being National Express West Midlands, which accounts for 77 per cent of all journeys made.

Centro subsidises 9.5 per cent of bus services – paying operators more than £8 million to run services which are not commercially viable, but are considered to be socially necessary.

Cover Image: londonbusesbyadam

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