£2.4m funding for Cornwall and 50p flat fare proposal

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Council to seek permission from government to pilot charging concessionary pass-holding passengers 50p flat rate

Cornwall Council has backed plans to allocate £2.4m to rural bus routes under threat alongside proposals to get permission from government to pilot a new scheme to charge concessionary passengers a flat rate of 50p per journey.

The council said the move will protect 95 threatened subsidised bus services – but this will not necessarily protect commercial bus services, which are operated without a subsidy.

At a meeting of the council’s cabinet on January 25, councillor Graeme Hicks, portfolio holder for transportation and highways, stated the arrangements were “the best deal for Cornwall”.

However, he warned: “We can’t categorically say there will be no changes going forward. We have got a budget and there are some difficult choices and it’s not easy but we are doing the best we can.”

126,000 concessionary pass holders in Cornwall will be affected if the Department of Transport allows the county to pilot the scheme.

The government cut £2.3m from the money it gives to Cornwall Council to pay for concessionary bus journeys. Currently the council reimburses operators almost threequarters of the normal single adult fare on concessionary journeys but this figure will fall to just half in April.

Mark Howarth, managing director of Western Greyhound, said the government was unlikely to back plans for the 50p charge and warned bus fares were likely to go up as costs spiralled.

Marc Reddy, regional commercial and business growth director for FirstGroup in South West and Wales said: “The situation in Cornwall remains extremely tough, with the local decision to reduce the concessionary fare reimbursement rate and the national decision to cut BSOG both conspiring to make operating buses even more difficult, but we welcome the progress has been made and we look forward to working with the Council to deliver tendered services on their behalf.

“We will watch, with interest, to see how the government responds to the Council’s proposal to trial a 50p charge for concessionary fare users.”

Meanwhile, Cornwall councillor Alex Folkes said: “The bus passes are for people who can’t, by and large, afford to pay. How can they now afford to pay for buses which had been free?”