Agenda item

Concessionary Bus Fares (Agenda item 10)

Report of the Executive Member for the Governance Portfolio (Lady Kay Fisher).

Minutes:

The report provided an update on recent changes to the concessionary bus fares scheme and sought clarification on areas where discretionary concessions might be applied.

 

The Executive Member for the Governance Portfolio explained that although various changes had been made to the scheme, she hoped that she would have the Members’ support as the scheme was of great benefit to council tax payers particularly to those in rural areas.

 

Some services that had previously been mandatory under the national scheme had now become discretionary, in that the district could make its own decision whether to grant a concession to journeys starting within their district.

 

A Member asked whether the Council could provide a new concessionary flexi bus service in the south of Attleborough as he had concerns with the amount of buses that had been withdrawn from around the Attleborough area as a whole.  He also asked that the Council supported a National Express coach from Attleborough to Thetford and to highlight the fact that it would be concessionary.

 

The Head of Finance explained that there had been a number of changes to the way in which the costs of the Norfolk scheme were allocated.  He asked that the surplus budget be removed to assist the Council’s efficiency plan, leaving sufficient funds to support the schemes outlined in the report.

 

The National Express coach route operating between Thetford and Norwich had allowed concessionary bus pass holders to travel free of charge since the new national scheme was introduced.  This scheme, however, now fell outside of the new guidelines and authorities had been requested to confirm whether they intended to continue to allow this concession.  The costs of granting a concession on this route were unknown, as the coach operator had never charged authorities for this service; therefore, the Council had not incurred any costs so far.  As a result, Breckland Council did not hold data to help forecast usage.  The Head of Finance explained that he would try to obtain some figures and would also keep a close eye on the numbers using it.<1>

 

Another Member said that he would find it very useful if the Council supported a flexibus/connect bus in his area (the Eynsford Ward), as public transport facilities in these particular areas were minimal.

 

The Chairman agreed that there were rural deprivation issues in Breckland and that residents should be allowed to access the main bus arteries. He suggested that the budget should be held in abeyance whilst further investigations took place with regard to the National Express coach matter.

 

The Deputy Leader felt that the Council should be careful with how it allocated these monies as Breckland had, in the past, received the lowest level of funding for public transport from Norfolk County Council even though Breckland had the highest level of elderly living in the area. 

Options

 

§               To remove the surplus budget to assist the Council’s efficiency plan.

 

§               To grant discretionary concessions to allow the continuation of concessions that were previously in the statutory scheme (advantages and disadvantages had been set out in the report at Appendix A).  All concessions encourage the use of public transport and support environmental objectives by providing alternative means of transport to private cars as well as supporting the development of prosperous communities.

 

§               Not to grant these discetionary concessions.

 

Reasons

 

§               To aid budget management and reallocation of surplus resources.

 

§               To clarify instructions issued to the bus operators and the scheme administrator.

 

§               Granting of the concessions would support the Council’s Strategic Business Plan and help it develop flourishing rural communities by improving access to services for people who lived in villages, especially those who are older, disabled or suffer from health problems.  It would ensure that people who lived in villages enjoyed reasonable access to basic services.

 

RECOMMEND to Council that:

 

1)           the surplus budget be reallocated to assist the Council’s efficiency plan conditional upon the need to fund discretionary enhancements to the community transport scheme;

 

2)           the concession for eligible pass holders to use the Thetford to Norwich National Express coach service be allowed;

 

3)           the flexibus services be continued to attract concessionary travel even though these services no longer form part of the national statutory scheme; and

 

4)           concessions be allowed to continue to operate from 8.30 prior to the core start time of the statutory scheme.

Supporting documents: