The West Midlands “ring and ride” service which provides free transportation for the elderly could soon be abolished under local government cutbacks, the Express and Star reports.
The distinctive red, white and blue minibuses have long been a valuable service offering a degree of independence for people with mobility problems caused by advanced age or disability. However, Westminster’s austerity campaign to bring Britain out of recession has seen funding cut significantly for local councils across the United Kingdom, including those in the West Midlands region.
Cuts are expected to free public transport services in the West Midlands.
The dry-up of funds from Whitehall has seen councils all over England and Wales slash investment in core services, with disadvantaged groups taking the brunt of the impact. In the West Midlands areas where “Ring and Ride” operates, funding for subsidised public transport has been affected by sweeping changes that could spell the end of the service.
Centro, which manages the ring and ride service on behalf of several West Midlands councils is launching a consultation on an expected £14.6 million of cuts to public services. Pensioners could soon lose their right to free tram and train travel and child fares may also rise.
A meeting of councillors from across the West Midlands has taken place on the Centro consultation, but no concrete decisions have yet been made. A planned vote is being put forward to public transport users on whether pensioners should lose their free travel, keep their passes for a £30 annual fee, or be transferred from their free passes to a system of specially discounted fares. This is a controversial decision as many pensioners rely on the free passes to visit family and friends and avoid isolation. The free passes are especially valuable to elders who are on benefits or state pensions and would not be able to afford the extra travel costs.
In addition the public consultation will ask whether children’s half-price fare discounts should also be abolished entirely. Alternative suggestions including hiking child fares to 2/3 of the current adult price for travel, and the possibility of introducing fixed fare contributions, which will still be less than a pound.
Ring and ride services are provided by the West Midlands Special Needs Transport charity to the tune of an annual cost of £10.5 million, drawn from taxpayer-sourced funds. After years of being a free service, most passengers now pay fares of sixty pence per journey. Centro, which helps with the funding, plans to cut the amounts of grants it makes as contributions to Ring and Ride or pass on the responsibility to local councils entirely. This may pile on the already tremendous financial pressure on councils who may not be able to afford the services, meaning pensioners and disabled persons needing subsidised travel could find themselves trapped in a ‘postcode lottery’. This is despite pensioners’ rights to off-peak free travel being protected by law.
Consultations will take place over much of December in major West Midlands cities and towns including Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall. The Express and Star newspaper is also polling its readers on the proposed cuts to Ring and Ride. The poll is viewable on their website.
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