Fears over bus pass future as Hampshire could bring in 50p charge for pensionersÂ
PLANS to make pensioners with free passes pay 50p for bus travel have been criticisedÂ '“Â with fears senior citizens could be stopped from getting out and socialising.
Subject to a law change in parliament, Hampshire County Council could introduce a 50p concessionary charge for each journey made using an Older Person's Bus Pass.
The council believes that this could raise Â£4m per year '“Â but people are concerned that this would not only further squeeze the pockets of pensioners, but also mean they don't spend time outdoors.
Elizabeth Humphries, 68 from Gosport, said: '˜If I have to start paying I may as well just drive everywhere '“Â but if you're on restricted income then it'll make you go out less and feel more isolated.
'˜The government is saying older people need to get out and be more active, but this will have a big impact on that.
'˜To make people pay for every journey means that if you're going from Gosport to Fareham, then on to QA Hospital and back again, it will actually cost you Â£2 '“Â I think it's a false economy and it won't stop at 50p; it will go up every year like other services do.'
Marjorie Brand, 71 from Portchester, said: '˜I don't think people will be very happy about this, but if they don't have a car they will have to bear the cost regardless.
'˜What makes the bus pass such a wonderful thing is that you can go out and about without worrying about the extra cost - it's a lifeline to many people and I think a lot of those people will object to the plans.'
Jane Mercer from Citizens Advice Havant said: '˜At Citizens Advice Havant we have concerns that even a charge of 50p would be too much for many of our clients who survive on very low incomes.
'˜The bus service is an essential lifeline for older people to access essential services and socialise, and many of the services they need are becoming more centralised in the towns.
'˜We feel it would have been better to advertise the paper consultation more widely, to get as many responses as possible from people who are not able to respond online.
'˜We ourselves were only sent paper versions of the consultation to our outreach in Waterlooville library on Monday and none to our main office in Leigh Park and the closing date is only just over a week away.'Â
An Age UK spokesman said: '˜Although we understand that tough decisions need to be made in today's economic climate, it must not be ignored that free local bus travel is a lifeline for many older people.
'It helps people to remain independent and access local amenities and services, and can be an important way to keep in contact with friends and family, helping to tackle social isolation.'
Steve Bonner from Pompey Pensioners said: '˜This is another attack on the free bus pass.
'˜While a number of wealthier pensioners can afford this many will find it major hardship.
'˜British pensions are the worst in Europe '“Â so the bus pass and NHS form a key part of our pension.
'˜Portsmouth Pensioners will be lobbying both Portsmouth City Council and Hampshire County Council, as well as our MPs, to stop these changes to bus passes '“Â we know it won't get better but we can at least stop it from getting any worse.'
Hampshire County Council was approached by The News for comment.
The consultation will end this weekend on Sunday, August 5.