Dial-a-Ride and concessionary fares - is the end looming?
Just days after reducedmobility.eu highlighted the pressures councils were under for their concessionary fares schemes comes news that at least one council is to act.
Copeland Borough Council in Cumbria hopes to save £30,000 from its discretionary concessionary travel scheme by stopping pensioners, except the most needy, receiving a railcard or travel vouchers worth £18 for buses and taxis.
The decision is based on a pensioner's income and not their ability to use public transport.
Disabled people will still be eligible, at least until the scheme is reviewed next November.
The changes are likely to come in next April - but once again we see the criteria for disabled people being eligible being tightened up with the usual jargon about protecting 'the most vulnerable'.
We are still heading towards a means-tested scenario for disabled people to get help to use public transport.
Copeland's announcement was followed this week by transport authority Centro in the Midlands announcing that pensioners face being charged £25 a year for passes to use trains and trams.
The authority is also considering means testing for elderly and disabled people who use the Ring and Ride service (Dial-a-Ride to everyone else) by asking them to prove they are eligible for the subsidised door-to-door scheme.
It is vital that councillors and Centro do not pursue this course of action.
People above the age of 60 currently get to use the rail and Metro services for free at certain times thanks to an add-on to the free bus passes to which they are entitled by law.
As well as charging pensioners for passes to use rail and Metro services after 9.30am, there are warnings of cuts to children’s subsidised travel too.
So while the future for Dial-a-Ride schemes is uncertain because of budget constraints we have to applaud Transport for London's (TfL) initiative this week when it announced it was trialling the use of cooking oil in a fleet of 12 mini-buses which transport disabled people.
The specially blended fuel made from used cooking oil will produce 25% fewer emissions than a normal diesel-powered vehicle and once the trial is complete it could be extended across the entire fleet of 370 vehicles.
The minibuses, which made more than 1.3m trips last year, are a vital lifeline for many disabled people.
Anything that helps reduce the running costs of such an important transport service and which may protect it for the future has to be encouraged. And it’s good for the environment too.