THE Government is abolishing half price coach concessions for older and disabled people from November.
In the last year 2.9 million concessionary journeys were made on National Express coaches alone.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK said:
“Many older people depend on the coach concession to get out and about, to see friends and family or travel further afield if they wish. The coach concession is an effective way of preventing loneliness and social isolation of people in later life.
“Age UK is calling on the Government to delay plans to cut the concession to allow enough time to consult properly with concession pass holders and operators.”
The end of coach concessions also risks the future of some coach routes, especially in rural areas.
On many coach routes in the UK, concessionary pass holders make up a significant proportion of passengers.
National Express run 18 routes where 32-51% of passengers receive concessions.
Neil Coyle, Director of Policy at the Disability Alliance said:
“A third of disabled people already live in poverty in the UK and discounted travel – especially long distance – has been a significant help to see family or to be able to take a short break.
“Many disabled people will be unable to travel at full cost on coaches and train fares can seem out of reach, especially with half working age disabled adults out of work and disabled people in work earning less than non-disabled colleagues.
“No public consultation has been conducted on this issue and disabled and older people have been excluded from the debate and decision-making process – possibly unlawfully.
“Legislation requires the Department for Transport to ensure the impact of decisions on disadvantaged groups, like older and disabled people, is fully analysed.
“But the assessment for this decision was rushed and we believe is inadequate, failing to take into account the full value of the scheme for health, economic activity and wellbeing of the people who use it.
“The DfT assessment also fails to consider the potential loss of coach services most used by concessionary passengers and the broader communities affected as a result.”
Sophie Allain, a campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, said:
“This hasty and poorly assessed decision also threatens to tip a number of coach routes into decline and closure especially in rural and disadvantaged areas.
“When difficult decisions have to be made it is vital that the Government assesses the impacts fully, consults the public and communicates with operators. Unless the Government pauses to do these things it will be vulnerable coach passengers who lose out.”
Many disabled and older people fear that the decision may be the first stop en route to ending the broader concessionary schemes for bus use.
Most political parties pledged to protect free bus travel at the last election despite efforts to cut public spending.