Well-off pensioners should be allowed to pay for their bus fares if it helps protect cash-strapped services in Ryedale and North Yorkshire, says Anne McIntosh.
The MP for Thirsk and Malton who led an adjournment debate at the House of Commons believes concessionary travel by bus should be put on the same legal footing as travel by rail.
But fellow Tory Robert Goodwill, the Scarborough and Whitby MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Transport, argued that charging pensioners to use their concessionary passes “would undermine the principle” of the scheme.
Monday evening’s debate had been called by Miss McIntosh in the wake of the decision by North Yorkshire County Council to slash the amount of money it pays in bus subsidies, resulting in the withdrawal of money given to Pickering’s and Malton and Norton’s town buses and the reduction of several other rural services.
Miss McIntosh said: “The proposed reduction of bus services is causing great anxiety, particularly among the elderly and less mobile passengers.
“Buses provide a lifeline to constituents in rural communities, with many relying on those essential services to access their work – people living in rural communities often work in the towns.”
She added: “My central argument is that if it works for rail passengers – they buy a concessionary rail card and get the concessionary travel – why can it not work for bus passengers?
“I have been led to believe that it cannot work because the law prevents it, so I am asking the Government to change the law. It need not be means-tested – it is not means-tested for rail passengers. We just need to put rail and bus passengers on an equal footing – problem solved.”
Mr Goodwill, who lives in Terrington, countered: “That would require a fundamental change to the way the system works, and it could be the thin end of the wedge, as services up and down the country – not just the ones that needed help to survive, but some of the more commercial ones – might also demand payment.
“It would change fundamentally the whole basis of the concessionary scheme. We do not at present have a scheme of free travel for pensioners on the railways. The discount available to pensioners or the railcards they can use are something completely different.”
Other speakers included Nigel Adams, the MP for Selby and Ainsty, and Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole, who suggested that by “making repeated cuts to services, we make the routes unsustainable in the longer term.”
But Mr Goodwill added: “The Government believe in buses. Our vision is of a ‘better bus’ with more of what passengers want: punctual, interconnected services; greener and more fully wheelchair-accessible buses; and widely available smart ticketing. A more attractive, more competitive and greener bus network will encourage more passengers, cut carbon and create growth.”
l North Yorkshire’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee have refused to back a call to force the county council to reconsider its decision to axe £2m from bus subsidies.
Several councillors had urged a re-think and “called-in” the decision by the council’s executive committee last month.
But at its meeting on Friday, the scrutiny committee backed the executive and the original decision will now stand.