Plans to reinstate bus passes for young people are at the forefront of a political campaign to fix the "unreliable" bus system in the Norwich area.

Labour's parliamentary candidate for Norwich North, Alice Macdonald, has launched an initiative to improve public transport in the area - with the first phase focussing on buses.

And Norfolk County Council's Labour group has confirmed this will include a focus on extending concessionary passes to young people.

Norwich Evening News: Labour's parliamentary candidate for Norwich North Alice MacdonaldLabour's parliamentary candidate for Norwich North Alice Macdonald (Image: Alice Macdonald)

"We want to see affordable and available bus travel to ensure people use it," said group leader Steve Morphew.

"We would like to extend the amount of concessions and it would be great to see them extended to young people."

However, a number of economic obstacles remain in place before such proposals can be implemented - including Labour winning the next general election.

When asked by the Evening News how Labour plans to fund these policies, Mr Morphew confirmed there is still a large amount of "economic analysis" that needs to be carried out.

Norwich Evening News: Leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County CouncilLeader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council (Image: Denise Bradley)

Conservative-controlled Norfolk County Council spends £12m each year to reimburse bus operators for journeys made by older and disabled people who use passes entitling them to free off-peak travel.

Local government chiefs said the funding Whitehall gives councils to meet those costs is not covering what authorities are paying.

The county council said it was unable to determine whether there is a shortfall because the money it gets from the government is part of a bigger package of cash, rather than specifically to cover those costs.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) calculates total payments by councils to bus companies were £452m higher than the sum they got from the government to reimburse them.

Norwich Evening News: Norfolk County Council has hit back at claims its bus service is brokenNorfolk County Council has hit back at claims its bus service is broken

"There is no question of scrapping any concessionary passes," said Mr Morphew.

"We want people to be less reliant on cars and encourage everyone to use public transport.

"The hope is to extend concessions but this depends on how the numbers work out."

As part of her campaign for Norwich North, Ms Macdonald has launched a survey asking locals about their experiences of using buses.

The findings will be shared with local transport providers and help formulate policy going forward.

"I’ve heard from many people about the challenges they face with public transport," Ms Macdonald said.

Norwich Evening News: The findings of Ms Macdonald's survey will be shared with the local transport providersThe findings of Ms Macdonald's survey will be shared with the local transport providers (Image: PA)

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"Young people have told me that the buses they need to get to college are often too unreliable and for many people, the routes they need simply aren’t available.

"The only way to fix this is to reform the system and put power back where it belongs, in the hands of the communities who depend on buses the most.

"I want to hear from people about the problems they are facing locally and would encourage people to take this survey."

However, the county council has hit back at claims the bus service is broken.

"Covid-19 had a massive impact on bus use with passenger numbers falling by 50.3pc on average but in many areas even more," said Graham Plant, cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport.

Norwich Evening News: Cllr Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transportCllr Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport (Image: Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk)

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"We have been working hard over the last year to bring passenger numbers back up and enhance services across the county.

"We are now starting to see many services across the county getting very close to pre-pandemic passenger numbers.

"This year we have announced 15 service enhancements including a brand new service to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital from the North of the city, more evening buses for Thorpe St Andrew, Swanton Morley and Dereham plus new weekend services from North Walsham with more due to start in July.  

"Approximately £12m of the funding we received from the DfT for our Bus Service Improvement Plan has been allocated to provide new or expanded bus routes and increase service frequencies on key routes, including more evening and weekend services."

The government has also been subsidising bus companies further through the successful £2 cap on single journeys, which has been extended until October 31 and will then be capped at £2.50 until November 2024 as part of a £300m investment.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith did not respond to a request for comment.