A bid to make concessionary bus travel “fairer” by allowing people to travel for free before 9.30am could only be funded by taking money away from other services.
That’s the message from the leader of Gloucestershire County Council Mark Hawthorne after the authority agreed to review the way bus passes for the elderly and disabled work.
At the moment concessionary bus travel allows pensioners and the disabled to free travel on the county’s buses during off-peak times – any when after 9.30am in the morning.
But many people believe the 9.30am rule is unfair because it forces vulnerable people to pay for their journey if they need to get anywhere during the morning rush hour.
The county’s Labour group has secured a commitment from the county council to look at the possibility of changing the rule to allow for travel from 8.30am onwards.
But the Conservative administration warned any such move would have significant financial implications, possibly “running into millions of pounds”.
Lesley Williams, the leader of the Labour group, said: “The 09.30am rule, which prevents older people and people with disabilities from using their bus pass, causes considerable inconvenience to many people living in Gloucestershire.
“Today many of our pensioners use their bus passes to go to work and attend medical appointments and they see the 09.30am rule as an unnecessary hindrance.
“Equally, people with disabilities are disenfranchised from using their bus pass to travel to work or college.
“We realise what we are asking will cost money. We realise it will mean that on some routes services may have to be increased. But we also realise that this is an issue that can no longer be ignored.”
The county council is required by law to provide concessionary travel.
Its current agreement is with the bus operator Stagecoach.
Mr Hawthorne said making the change could cause issues with capacity on rush hour buses.
He also stressed the fact the council doesn’t have any spare cash lying around to pay for relaxing the rule.
He said: “We need to understand the wider implications of doing this but we are happy to take it away and come back with some sensible recommendations – if we can find any.”
Councillor Will Windsor Clive (C, Newent), cabinet member for fire, planning and infrastructure, said changing the rule “could be very expensive indeed”.
“This money would have to come from somewhere and we have not allocated any money for this as part of our next budget,” he said.
Independent Councillor Mike Styzmiak (Tewkesbury) described changing the time to 8.30am as “arbitrary”.
The council voted in favour of reviewing the bus passes at a meeting on Wednesday.