Disabled and older people will make a million fewer cheap coach journeys this year as a result of government cuts, say campaigners.
On 1 November last year, the government abolished the financial support that funded half-price, long-distance coach travel for disabled and older people in England.
The concessions – a 50 per cent off-peak discount and a 30 per cent discount at peak times – had been in place since 2003 and were funded through a government grant handed to coach operators.
After the government funding was removed, National Express – the biggest and most accessible coach operator – introduced a new scheme offering one-third off coach fares for disabled and older people who buy a £10 discount card.
But in a financial statement released last week, it announced that the withdrawal of the government funding was likely to lead to one million fewer concessionary journeys on its coaches in 2012.
Disability Alliance (now part of Disability Rights UK), Age UK and the Campaign for Better Transport raised concerns last year about the likely impact of the funding cut.
The fall in journeys would be more than a third of the 2.9 million concessionary trips made on National Express between April 2010 and March 2011.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) pointed to National Express figures which showed that on 18 of its routes, between one third and half of all passengers had been using the old concessionary scheme, while the axing of government support had led to some routes being abandoned.
Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “Sadly, disabled people are once again the hardest hit by a rushed decision that failed to consider the impact on disadvantaged people.”
He said the Department for Transport (DfT) had failed to consult with disabled people over the withdrawal of funding – first announced in 2010 – and could have breached its duty under the Equality Act to assess the impact of its decisions on disabled and older people and other disadvantaged groups.
Coyle added: “We hope DfT is now monitoring the effect of the abolition of concessionary fares which failed to take into account the full value of the scheme for health, economic activity and wellbeing of older and disabled people.”
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, said: ”The decision to end the coach concession grant was a difficult one but it has meant that the department has been able to continue the national bus concession for older and eligible disabled people.
“By giving coach operators 12 months’ notice of the scheme ending, it was expected there would be sufficient time for them to plan for the removal of the grant and to give their customers reasonable notice of any changes to their concessions.
“All coach operators are free to continue to offer discounted travel to older and eligible disabled people on a commercial basis as indeed I understand National Express are doing.”
A DfT spokeswoman added: “The department is in regular contact with groups representing disabled and older people and we listen carefully to the points they raise.”
1 November 2012