Row over coach cuts

MP urges government not to axe discounts for elderly and disabled

A SOUTH Yorkshire MP is backing groups representing elderly and disabled people who are urging the Government not to axe a discount scheme for people travelling on coaches.

Denis MacShane, who represents Rotherham, has written to Transport Secretary Philip Hammond calling for him to reconsider the move.

The scheme, brought in by Labour in 2003, allows elderly and disabled people to travel on coaches with a 50 per cent discount and operates in a similar way to railcards.

Mr MacShane said: “I am writing to Philip Hammond to reverse this cut, especially at a time when rail tickets are rising by up to 15 per cent in January.

“Obviously the millionaires in the cabinet never use National Express or take coach trips, but this means of low-cost transport is important to poorer members of the community.

“Bit by bit we are seeing the help Labour provided to the elderly and disabled being removed by the Tories and Lib Dems. The cut will keep the old and disabled cooped up in their homes and damage the local economy in coach companies.

“The total subsidy is less than one fifth of the cost of the Libyan intervention.

“Fewer wars abroad and more support for pensioners and the disabled should be our priority.”

The change will come into effect on October 31 despite opposition by coach firm National Express, the Campaign for Better Transport, Disability Alliance and charity Age UK, who fear some routes could become economically unviable and close.

National Express has written to the Department for Transport and to MPs calling for the decision to be reversed.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We have made it clear that our first priority must be to reduce the budget deficit.

“The industry may wish to continue to offer this on a commercial basis, but the government has decided that this funding should end, to allow funding to be used for higher priority programmes, such as the statutory national concession which offers free travel on local bus services throughout England.

He added: “The local bus concession is intended to allow people to access the local services that they need.

“For many older and disabled people a free local bus service can be a lifeline, providing access to employment, healthcare and other essential services.

“Older people can access most of these services by local bus services, rather than needing a long-distance coach journey.”