Bus campaigners in Lancaster are calling on the county council to reverse its ban on the use of senior citizens’ bus passes on a popular local bus service, fearing that it might be “the beginning of the end” for the scheme.
The Northern Dalesman, otherwise known as services 830/832 and running between Morecambe, Lancaster, Ingleton, Hawes and Richmond, is set to return for the summer on May 1 as part of the popular Dales Bus network of services in, to and from the Yorkshire Dales.
This year, however, holders of the English National Concessionary Bus Pass – or NoW card – will have to pay to use it as Lancashire County Council has decided to exclude the service from the bus pass scheme.
In response to a request by Lancaster District Bus Users’ Group to explain their action, a transportation officer from the county council said that the service “would only be of very limited use for Lancashire residents, apart from them enjoying a day in the Dales, which is not the purpose of a concessionary travel scheme”.
Jim Davies, chairman of the Bus Users’ Group, said: “This is, of course, a very worrying development. If the county council feels that NoW cards should not be used to allow Lancashire residents to “enjoy a day out in the Yorkshire Dales” what is to stop them taking the view that they shouldn’t be used for a day trip to the Lake District, to Blackpool or to anywhere else that takes their fancy?
“Will the county council now be looking for every possible way to restrict the use of bus passes that so many elderly and disabled people rely on?”
The Bus Users’ Group has formally asked Lancashire County Council to change its policy, to recognise that the Northern Dalesman service does meet the criteria, as expected by the Department for Transport, for inclusion in the NoW card scheme and to make NoW cards available on the service.
The Concessionary Travel Act 2007 that set up the scheme does not state any journey purpose for which concessions should or should not be available, merely that they must be available on all registered local bus services operating at off-peak hours.
Amendments introduced by Regulations, in 2009, did allow local authorities to exclude any services provided “primarily for the purposes of tourism” from the scope of the scheme.
The regulations themselves, however, did not provide a definition of “tourism” and guidance subsequently made available by the Department for Transport made it quite clear that the purpose of the change was to exclude only premium-fare services that provided an amenity element such as a commentary or tour.