Buses 'not equipped' for free bus passesMPs report slams new government scheme

01 April 2008

£1 billion a year

Cost of bus pass scheme

Eleven million free travel smart cards have been issued but many buses are not equipped to read them, a report by MPs said today.

The report, by the House of Commons Transport Committee, said the situation was 'daft'.

Ten years after committing to integrated bus ticketing, the Government has 'achieved too little of practical value', the report said.

Funding disputes

Disputes over the funding of the nationwide free bus pass system for the elderly, which takes effect from today, 'look set to continue', the committee added.

The scheme, enabling those aged 60 and over as well as the disabled to travel free after the morning rush-hour on any bus anywhere in England, is costing more than £1 billion a year, the MPs noted.

The scheme must give 'value for money' and its benefits should be officially evaluated, said the report.

Expensive

Commenting on buses generally, the committee said: 'It is nonsense that the everyday act of changing buses is still made unnecessarily inconvenient and expensive by poor ticketing arrangements.

'The government needs to pay more attention to resolving these basic problems, which penalise passengers and deter others from using buses at all.'

The report, entitled Ticketing and Concessionary Travel on Public Transport, said:

  • about £400 million - about 8% of revenue - is lost each year from unpaid rail fares and further 'significant amounts' from unpaid bus fares;
  • yet revenue protection is 'poorly understood' and it is worrying that transport operations do not have more accurate or consistent information;
  • introducing more ticket gates at rail stations is not always the best method of protecting rail revenue;
  • the government must not force ITSO (smartcard technology) on to the London Oyster card scheme without rigorous tests and pilots.

Anomalies

Concerns have been expressed that the funding provided by the government to local authorities for introducing the nationwide bus pass scheme is inadequate.

The committee report said: 'The anomalies within, and disputes over, the distribution of concessionary travel grant to local authorities look set to continue, despite the 'generous' funding provided by the government and the new funding formula.

'We find it is unhelpful that the transport authority and the travel concession authority are often not the same body and may inadvertently work against each other.'

Boon

Commenting on the report, the committee's chairman, Gwyneth Dunwoody MP, said: 'The ability to travel freely across the country by bus is a great boon and we welcome that. However, the scheme will cost £1 billion (and) it is important to get value for money.

'The government needs a clearer strategy to move forward with integrated ticketing. The everyday act of changing buses should not be made inconvenient and expensive because of the ticketing arrangements.

'It is also vital that any new integrated smart card system would have to have integrated protection systems to prevent fraud and payment avoidance.

'However we do not think it sensible to focus exclusively on installing ticket gates at rail stations, as these can cause delays and obstructions for passengers and they are not always the best methods of protecting rail revenue.'

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