County-wide free bus pass scheme?

Winchester City Council will take part in a county-wide free fare bus pass scheme that operates during off-peak hours if Cabinet agree to a recommendation by the Director of Development, Steve Tilbury, at its meeting on 14 September. This would replace the existing travel tokens and half-fare bus pass schemes.

The report says that the government announced earlier this year that from 1 April 2006 each local authority will be required to provide free local bus travel for every person over 60, and for every disabled person.

The Council's three options are to operate a district-wide scheme during off-peak hours; a county-wide scheme during off-peak hours; and a county-wide scheme operating all day. The report says that from initial discussions with other local authorities it would seem likely that most districts will be selecting the third option, with three, including Winchester, recommending option two.

The report says the net cost to the Council is estimated at £500,000 - the gross cost estimate less the current expenditure of £265,000 on travel concessions.

Cabinet is also being asked to approve an estimated additional cost of £20,000 to finance free fares on the Winchester and Bishops Waltham Dial-a-Ride service since it is anticipated that most users will opt for the free fare bus pass.

The council currently gives an annual grant of £43,000 to the Dial-a-Ride service with matched funding from Hampshire County Council.

"By opting for the county-wide scheme at off-peak times it will ensure that residents who wish to travel outside of the district, as many people living outside of Winchester do, are not denied the benefits of the scheme," the report states.

Although the government has set aside money to help local authorities provide the free fare bus pass, the report says that Winchester is one of those authorities who may not receive an actual cash allocation.

This will not be known until November 2005 and the report adds "provision should be made to finance the scheme on the prudent assumption that the whole cost will have to be met through council tax."