Consultation on Changes to the Concessionary Fares Scheme for Access Pass Holders

PROPOSALS to bring the Reading concessionary bus pass scheme for Access Pass Holders into line with the national scheme is the subject of an eight-week public consultation which opens tomorrow (25th May 2018).

Reading Borough Council still subsidises a scheme which allows disabled pass holders using the Access Pass to travel for free on local buses at any time. The English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) only permits free bus travel from 9.30am until 11.00pm on Monday to Fridays and at any time on weekends and bank holidays.

As well as the proposed changes in times Access Pass Holders can board buses, under the proposals the Council would no longer issue or accept companion bus passes, which allow free travel for companions travelling with disabled (Access Plus Companion) pass holders. It would also no longer provide free travel on ReadiBus services.

Government funding for local authorities is failing to keep pace with the cost of demand on key Council services, like caring for vulnerable children and adults. In Reading, Government funding will have been cut from nearly £58 million between 2010 and 2020, leaving the Council with a Government grant of under £2 million. This may be removed entirely by 2020. It leaves councils like Reading with little option but to continue to seek further savings across all its services.

Earlier this year the Council agreed a number of difficult budget decisions in order to balance the budget, which it has to by law. Changes to Reading’s concessionary bus pass scheme for Access Pass Holders was one of those.

Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Transport and Planning, said: “For many years this Council offered Access Pass Holders a bus concessionary scheme over and above the national scheme, meaning disabled residents could travel for free on buses in Reading at any time, instead of only between 9.30am and 11.00pm Monday to Fridays as the national scheme permits.

“Last year the Council had to revert to the national concessionary scheme for older people in Reading. It is now with great regret we have to propose the same for disabled residents. If agreed, the change would come into effect on 1st April 2019 and would bring Reading into line with many other local authority areas which do not provide any subsidy and only offer the national scheme.

“This is yet another example of how Government cuts are impacting on the public services which are offered by local councils and the people that rely on them. The reality is subsidies like the one Reading offered for concessionary fares, are virtually impossible in the face of the severe cuts which have taken place at a time when demand on key services, like adults and children’s social care, are rising to unprecedented levels.

“I would urge as many people as possible to take part in this important consultation which runs until Friday 20th July 2018.”

An 8-week public consultation exercise will begin tomorrow (Friday 25th May). The Council is writing to nearly 6,000 Access Pass Holders asking them to complete an online questionnaire at www.reading.gov.uk/accesspass

Paper copies of the questionnaire will be made available on request by email to transport@reading.gov.uk with ‘Concessionary Fares Consultation’ in the subject header or by calling Transport Planning on 0118 937 2451. Large print versions of the questionnaire and covering letter are also available on request.

Written responses will also be accepted and these can be emailed to transport@reading.gov.uk or posted to: Reading Borough Council, Transport Planning – Concessionary Fares Consultation 2018, Floor 1, Civic Offices, Bridge Street Reading, RG1 2LU.

The closing date for responses is Friday 20th July 2018. All feedback will then be considered at a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee in September before a final decision is taken on whether to proceed with the change. If agreed following the consultation, any changes would come in to effect from 1st April 2019.

Ends

Notes to Editor:

What is the current provision in Reading?

Reading Borough Council currently provides the ‘discretionary’ elements in addition to the England National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) as follows:

Free travel at any time on weekdays within Reading borough for disabled (ACCESS) pass holders;
Issuing a Companion Entitlement allowing disabled (ACCESS PLUS COMPANION) pass holders, who are unable to travel alone, free travel for a companion when travelling with them, also at any time within Reading on weekdays;
Free travel on ReadiBus dial-a-ride services for some Access pass holders who meet ReadiBus eligibility criteria (ReadiBus services are not included in the national scheme).

What are the proposed changes?

The Council is proposing to remove all of its discretionary elements and revert to the national scheme, which would mean Reading Borough Council would:

·         no longer issue or accept companion bus passes

·         no longer provide free travel on ReadiBus services; and

·         Disabled Access Pass holders would not be permitted free travel within Reading before 9:30am or after 11:00pm on Monday to Fridays but are allowed free travel at any time on weekends and bank holidays..

This would bring the Reading Borough Council scheme in line with the current Older Person’s pass holders and the ENCTS national scheme.

Victoria Nickless

For media enquiries about this release email victoria.nickless@reading.gov.uk or call 0118 937 3957