Disabled help scheme is driven off the road

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Plans to extend Lancashire’s concessionary bus fares scheme to allow disabled passengers to take a helper with them for free have been abandoned.

Currently, pensioners and disabled people can travel for free on buses under the arrangement which has been running since 2008.

And transport chiefs at County Hall were considering extending it from next year, allowing disabled passengers to take someone else on the journey for free as well.

But budget pressures as a result of major Government cuts mean the idea has been scrapped.

And councillors also said it was proving difficult to come to an agreement with bus companies to make the scheme work.

It is expected that scrapping the proposal will save the council £130,000 in the next financial year.

The authority is under pressure to axe almost £179m from its budget due to Government funding cuts.

A report to members of the authority’s cabinet said the money-saving proposal was “not to proceed with the introduction of free bus concessions for companions travelling with people with disabilities.”

It said: “It was originally proposed that people qualifying for a companion card would be able to take a companion with them free of charge on bus and tram services.

“However, it has proved difficult to arrive at an agreed scheme with the bus operators.”

Aidan Turner-Bishop from the Lancashire Campaign for Better Transport said: “I imagine the cost would not be that great, provided it was not abused. Informal care within families is a great unpaid business going on across the country.

“The real problem is the way concessionary fares were set up in England, but not financed properly.

“That is why you have got bus companies dragging their feet and councils wanting to scrap it.

“It’s not LCC’s fault, it is a national England problem.”

County Coun Tim Ashton, cabinet member for transport, was not available for comment.

Under the scheme, first introduced in April 2008, over 60s and disabled are entitled to free off-peak local bus travel anywhere in England after 9.30am on weekdays and all day at weekends.

The bill was originally picked up by district councils, but responsibility passed to the county council in 2010/11.

LCC says it will also save money in future, as officers have renegotiated the amount it will be reimbursed with when people travel for free.

The new lower “reimbursement rate” will mean the council will save £3.4m over the next two years.