Monday, 14 January 2008

Cabinet to cut free travel to hospital

Reading the papers going to Cabinet, I noticed that the planned implementation of the new national concessionary bus fares scheme, which allows for free travel anywhere in the country for the over-60s between 9.30am and 11pm, was to be discussed by Cabinet. The proposal from officers was that the scheme be implemented in Darlington and that the Borough should take advantage of the rights which local councils have to extend the scheme for their area by allowing free travel until 12 midnight.
However, at present, Darlington allows free travel before 9.30am. This concession was to be withdrawn - to save money.
I spoke to the Echo and sent them a press release which said that this was wholly unacceptable because it meant that elderly residents needing to visit Darlington Memorial or Bishop Auckland General would have to pay the full adult fare in future, whereas at the moment they travel free. I called on the Cabinet to reject officers' proposals and to continue to allow free travel to the over 60s before 9.30am. I envisaged a headline something like: " Lib Dem Councillor calls on Cabinet to save free travel for over 60s." Or, "Lib Dem Councillor slams new charge for the sick to get to hospital."
Instead, the headline was, "Plan to withdraw free early bus travel" and a couple of sentences from my press release - together with a quote from the Conservative Leader, who had nothing to do with the story - was stuck on at the end of the article. You wouldn't have known it was my story! Also, the article made no mention of the main point: that it is hospital patients in particular who are to be disadvantaged by this.
Cllr Lyonette, the Cabinet member responsible, is quoted as saying they will be seeing how it goes and collect information about how many people want to use the extended scheme. What nonsense! The information is out there already: just find out how many over-60s currently use the buses in Darlington before 9.30am. That's your answer! Indeed, the paper going to Cabinet on Wednesday states clearly that 10% of all concessionary bus travel in Darlington takes place before 9.30am.

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