County bus pass users now have earlier start time

Council leader Ken Thornber
Council leader Ken Thornber
The team passes the Nelson statue in Old Portsmouth. Picture: Keith Woodland (171022-0023)

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BUS users who qualify for concessionary fares will be able to use their passes earlier – thanks to a late change of mind by Hampshire County Council.

From April, anyone aged 60 and over, or with a disability, will be able to travel free on buses from 9am, Monday to Friday.

Previously, the start time had been 9.30am.

It comes after the Tory-run council agreed to pump in an extra £350,000.

Council leader Ken Thornber said: ‘We found money for a top-up to the scheme from our own resources to cover a government shortfall in the scheme. ‘A 9am start to the scheme was the most popular request in our consultation, and we will deliver that. It represents what district councils were unable to do.

‘This means people will be able to travel earlier, enabling people to reach early appointments at hospitals including QA, from Fareham and other areas.

‘We wanted to respond to what the consultation on the service told us.’

The scheme will also be extended to enable the carers of people with disabilities to travel for free.

The government has ordered all county councils to take over the schemes.

But ministers have infuriated Hampshire councillors by offering just £12.5m to do so – £2.5m less than district councils spent last year.

While bus passes can be used earlier, the county council rejected a last-minute attempt to have alternative transport added to the scheme.

There had been calls from Gosport for the ferry to be included, while in Havant they wanted concessions for trains.

Lib Dem councillors welcomed the extra cash, but argued some areas need more flexibility than others.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Keith House said: ‘In Gosport, for example, it’s better and easier for people to travel to their nearest big centre, Portsmouth, by ferry than by bus.

In parts of Havant, where bus services are less regular, it’s better for some people to use the train.

District councils provided these tokens and we should provide the option, too.’

But Cllr Thornber said: ‘We can’t afford to do that at the moment, as we have much less money than the total spent on the scheme last year.

‘But we will offer £32 in travel vouchers as an alternative, to use in taxis, or dial and ride services.’