COMPANION bus passes will continue to be accepted on buses in Reading for disabled passengers who have difficulty travelling alone.
The passes – which allow for free bus travel for people accompanying Access Pass holders on journeys – had been put forward as a potential budget saving earlier this year. Over 1,300 responses were received in response to a public consultation in May when the Council wrote to all of its 6,000 Access Pass holders proposing changes to the current Access Pass scheme in Reading, including the removal of companion pass element.
At a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee last night (Oct 29th) Councillor Tony Page, Reading’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, confirmed the saving associated with the companion pass element of the Access Pass scheme would no longer be taken forward.
Responding to a question by Councillor Rachel Eden, Chair of Access & Disabilities Working Group, Councillor Page said:
“The Council has historically provided a more generous scheme with additional discretionary elements for both holders of the older person and disabled (Access) concessionary pass. However, like all local authorities, the Council faces significant financial pressures with reduced funding from Central Government, and increasing demands on its services.
“The consultation was undertaken between 25th May to 20th July and over 1,300 responses were received.
“Initial analysis of the responses has demonstrated a clear need for the Companion Pass element of the scheme to remain, as this provides a vital lifeline for disabled residents who are unable to travel alone and rely on carers to help them get out and about. I am pleased, therefore, to announce that the Council does not intend to pursue this element of the overall budget saving proposal.”
A full copy of Councillor Page’s response can be found at http://www.reading.gov.uk/article/11451/Policy-Committee-29-OCT-2018 (Item 4 – petitions and questions).
Like many local authorities, Reading Borough Council continues to face significant financial pressure with Government funding failing to keep up with the rising costs of paying for increased demands for key Council services. Government funding for Reading will have been cut from nearly £58 million between 2010 and 2020, leaving the Council with a grant of under £2 million. That grant may be removed entirely by 2020 and there remains little clarity on how the Government will fund local authorities beyond that point.
In April 2017, the Council removed a number of the discretionary elements of the scheme for Older Person pass holders. In February this year the Council then agreed to consult with nearly 6,000 Access Pass Holders on a further budget saving proposal which contained three separate elements. They were to revert to the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS), which only permits free weekday bus travel from 9.30am until 11.00pm; no longer provide free travel on ReadiBus services for Access Pass holders; and no longer accept companion passes.
The companion pass element will now not be taken forward. Before a final decision is made on the remaining two elements of the proposal, further consultation will take place with holders of the Older Persons Pass who – alongside Access Pass holders – are also eligible to use ReadiBus services for free. Feedback from Older Person’s Pass Holders will then will be analysed, alongside the responses already received.
A final decision on any future changes to both the Access Pass and Older Person’s Pass schemes will be taken at a future meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee. All responses will be considered alongside the Council’s financial position. Any changes to the scheme that are approved by the Committee would then not come into effect until 1st April 2019.