Cornwall Council and the Concessionary Fares Inquiry
The Inquiry Day into Concessionary Fares, or to give its correct title of English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) was always going to attract a lot of interest, especially as any changes will affect many people. Any cut has the potential to affect not only to those who are entitled for free travel, but those full paying customers who use the buses because routes could disappear.
Cornwall has the highest re-imbursement rate in England with £7.6m spent in 2010/11 period. The reason for the grant is not to subsidise bus operations but to pay for any increased costs that may have been incurred.
There are 125,000 Cornish pass-holders and a further 500,000 visitors who are entitled to use this scheme each year. I asked the question to the bus companies present the percentage of tourist users, but they said they did not have that detailed information. However, they did say it equates to around to 25% of all journeys in the three month summer period. If we had more detailed information maybe we could lobby Government for some sort of dispensation.
The bus companies are not only facing a potential cut from Cornwall Council because of a £2.2m shortfall in this year’s budget, but also from the Bus Service Operator Grant (BSOG). This cut could be up to 20% in 2012/13. Add to the pot the high fuel prices a lot routes could be in doubt.
Bus companies could also do better by reducing their costs and making the services they provide more cost effective. One way they could do this is by introducing Smartcard ticketing which could enable them to recoup 8% and a further 2% if they have Automatic Vehicle Location equipment.
During the inquiry there was a call for a nominal fee to be paid per journey, but this cannot be carried out as this would be illegal under the current Act of Parliament. This also rules out charging tourists to use the service. The scheme does not even allow for voluntary contributions from passengers. It was interesting to note that only the English scheme was valid in Cornwall with Scottish and Welsh pass-holders having to pay the full fare.
The general message from all those Councillors present is there should be no dramatic cut in funding to the ENCTS. The big problem is where this £2.5m shortfall will be made up from? If it cannot be found within the Transport budget what other service would have to make the sacrifice?
Many other Local Authorities are facing a similar dilemma to their ENCTS, and will no doubt be looking at Cornwall to see what we do.
Let’s hope they don’t think car parking could take up this shortfall.