Sunday, 26 March 2017

Burnham pledges free bus passes for 16-year-olds, but not for over 60's!

Labour Mayoral Candidate - Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, recently launched his mayoral manifesto. Amongst other things, he pledged to roll out free bus passes for 16 to 18-year-olds, who live in Greater Manchester.

According to a recent report by the “Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change” (CRESC), published in November 2016, Greater Manchester is a city region marked by low wages and precarious work with an acute shortage of social housing. Despite this, the report points out that fares for public transport are high and most commuting is by car. The report says:

“Excluding movements from Salford to Manchester, 60 to 70% of the commutes in to Manchester City from the nine other boroughs are by car. Commuting to work accounts for less than 20% of trips in Greater Manchester.”

Since the deregulation of buses under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in 1986, bus trips in big cities outside of London, have collapsed from 2bn trips a year to 1bn. Moreover, while fares have risen, services have worsened or have been cut altogether. Around 40p in every pound of revenue that bus companies take, comes directly as a subsidy from the taxpayer.

By contrast, bus use in London since the 1980s, has gone in the opposite direction, from 1bn to 2bn trips a year. Under ‘Transport for London’ (TfL), everything from the fares, the bus route, the timetable, and the profits that the bus company makes, are decided by the Mayor and TfL. Under the “Oyster Card” fare system, which everyone must use, Transport for London have introduced a standard single fare for journeys which allows passengers to pay one single fare if they change service within one hour. Free travel on bus, tube or tram, is available if you live in a London borough and are over 60-years of age.

However, if you live in within Greater Manchester, you are no longer entitled to a free bus pass when you reach 60-years of age. This change came about in 2010, when the qualifying age for a free bus pass, was moved incrementally, each year, towards pensionable age.  

As a 62-year-old man who lives in Labour controlled Greater Manchester, I must pay full bus fares until I qualify for a free bus pass (if there are still free bus passes) in September 2020, when I will be almost 66-years of age, possibly riddled with arthritis, and with a long white beard, and a walking stick. Like many people, the high cost of travelling on public transport in Greater Manchester, means that I rarely use it nowadays.

While I don’t begrudge giving a healthy 16 to 18-year-old a free bus pass, it seems outrageous to me, that because I don’t live in Greater London, I cannot get a free bus pass as a man in my sixties, but would be entitled to it, if I lived in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Although I accept that many people who live in Greater Manchester may be totally unaware that they no longer qualify for a free bus passes at 60, the government must marvel at the way in which they get away with this in England - cutting people’s benefits while at the same time, cutting taxes for the multinationals and the rich. No doubt, they must wonder why, the people of Greater Manchester and the other areas of England, put up with such blatant discrimination in transport policy within the regions of the UK.  No wonder, some politicians get awarded lucrative part-time jobs in the city.

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