Early morning free bus travel in Norfolk faces axe

The axe finally looks set to fall on free bus travel for the elderly in Norfolk before 9.30am, while concessionary bus pass holders will also be made to pay to use park and ride.

From April, Norfolk County Council will take over responsibility from the district councils for reimbursing bus operators for the cost of people using bus passes.

Concessionary bus pass holders are entitled to free travel on buses between 9.30am and 11pm Monday to Friday and all day at weekends.

In Norfolk the district councils have offered an extra hour between 8.30am to 9.30am, but the county council says it can no longer afford the �250,000 cost of that extra hour,

The cabinet is expected to vote to scrap it at a meeting on Monday, but free travel for bus pass holders looks set to still be provided on a handful of services in places where there is just one bus per day which leaves before 9.29am.

Free bus travel before 9.30am on the county council's pre-booked Flexibus services also looks set to continue.

Graham Plant, cabinet member for travel and transport, referrring to the routes where, if the proposals are agreed, people will still be able to use the bus passes before 9.30am, said: 'These are routes where there are no other alternatives.

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'What we have done is to talk with the bus operators to ensure they can continue. We are in a rural county and we are trying to ensure people have a way of getting about.'

But, on park and ride services, bus pass holders will no longer get free bus travel at all.

Instead, they will have to pay a �1 return fare to use the park and ride service, which has six sites around Norwich.

The county council says that will save around �350,000 a year and generate extra revenue of �190,000 a year for the park and ride service.

Mr Plant said: 'The way we looked at that one, was that if people are driving to park and ride sites, it seemed a bit obtuse to then be providing a full subsidy to give them a free ride into town. The �1 charge ensures the service can be maintained.'

Norfolk County Council says it has been short-changed to the tune of up to �4.5m by the government on the amount it has been handed to reimburse bus operators – saying the �7.2m awarded is not enough to cover a bill which could be as high as �11.7m.

The council is lobbying the Department for Transport over what it hopes is an 'oversight and error' and has written to the government, but Mr Plant said the authority has yet to receive an official response.

As part of the Big Conversation and the �155m worth of savings the county council needs to make over the next three years there are plans to close toilets at some park and ride sites, while operating hours could be cut.

What do you think about the changes? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk