The government is to stop the financial support that funds half-price long-distance coach travel for disabled and older people in England.
The decision was first announced quietly as part of last year’s spending review, but the Department for Transport (DfT) has now confirmed that the funding will stop on 31 October.
The concessions – a 50 per cent off-peak discount and a 30 per cent discount at peak times – have been in place since 2003 and are funded through a government grant handed to coach operators.
The DfT said the coach industry could continue offering a concession scheme “on a commercial basis”, but one company – National Express – is already encouraging disabled and older people to protest about the government’s decision.
National Express said it was “looking to introduce a replacement scheme”, but warned the discounts would not be as high as under the present scheme.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, criticised the government’s decision to cut funding for the scheme.
She said: “The loss of yet another transport service at a concessionary and therefore affordable price will lead to even further isolation of disabled people, preventing many from visiting friends and relatives.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, added: “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.”
He said the DfT had failed to consult with disabled people over the withdrawal of funding and could have breached its duty under the Equality Act to assess properly the impact of its decisions on disabled and older people and other disadvantaged groups.
Eligibility for the scheme for disabled people is the same as for the national concessionary bus travel scheme, which is being retained by the government.
Theresa Villiers, the Conservative transport minister, said the “pressing need to tackle the deficit” had “required us to take a number of difficult decisions, including this one”.
She said: “For many older and disabled people a free local bus service can be a lifeline, providing access to employment, healthcare and other essential services.
“That is why we have given priority to the local concession scheme and retained it despite the deficit crisis. That has meant that some other areas of transport spending, such as support for long distance coach travel, have had to be cut.”
The coach companies will be able to claim funding for all bookings made up to 31 October 2011, even if the tickets are for travel on a later date.
25 August 2011