Rosie Cooper MP has outlined the issues surrounding the provision of free bus/rail travel for pensioners and disabled people in West Lancashire. The statement was released earlier today:
Labour MP Rosie Cooper outlines the issues raised in her Westminster Hall debate on concessionary bus travel schemes and the fraudulent issuing of tickets by bus companies.
"There are many older and disabled people in my constituency in West Lancashire and across the country who rely on public transport to access vital public services, such as their GP; for employment opportunities; and to take an active part in social and leisure activities."
"The introduction of the national free off-peak concessionary travel scheme by the government has opened up a wealth of opportunities for older and disabled people by removing the cost barrier of public transport. Therefore, we must ensure that we get maximum benefit for those eligible from the funding government has committed to the scheme."
"In recent months I have been working with local pensioner organisations in West Lancashire campaigning to get a better, fairer deal on free public transport. We have been on the streets getting people to sign a petition; they have met with council officers to express the strength of feeling and they even protested at a recent council meeting."
"Local authorities, such as West Lancashire District Council, are 'net gainers' through the concessionary travel scheme. I want to see them use the surplus funding to invest in giving local people are better deal on public transport. This could include giving people at the very least the choice between a free bus pass or a free rail pass."
"What I want to see for the older and disabled people of West Lancashire is a fair deal on concessionary travel. Older people in West Lancashire see that their neighbours in Southport and Wigan get to travel for free on buses and trains. They would like the chance and the choice to hop on the train to visit their friends and relatives and take full advantage of the social and leisure opportunities. Pensioners are tired of being Merseytravel's poor relations."
"As for fraudulent tickets being issued, this practice has been brought to my attention by pensioners travelling on local buses. They are being given tickets that do not reflect their actual journey. In some cases drivers have been issuing tickets from a pre-printed roll. These practices undermine the credibility and viability of the concessionary travel scheme."
"I have made press statements calling on those residents using concessionary travel to be vigilant and encouraging them to complain when they are issued with the wrong ticket. I am aware from the complaints received by Lancashire County Council that in 61 per cent of cases of incorrect tickets being issued it would have resulted in an overpayment to the bus operator."
"Any claims from bus operators that are greater than their entitlement means there will be less money in the pot for more people to make more journeys. This will place a greater burden on the council tax payers to fill the unnecessary gap this creates."
"Therefore, I want to highlight how the free concessionary travel scheme can offer real social inclusion benefits for older and disable people but is being undermined. And show how some local authorities that have financially gained through this scheme could and should be doing more for those eligible, and that there certain practices that must be stopped now."
To read the full Westminster Hall debate surrounding the issue, please see here. To view the recorded video of the debate, see here(Please note that this is the full afternoon session video).