Opposition to proposal to scrap bus concessions for blind in Cambridgeshire

PUBLISHED: 17:15 09 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:15 09 October 2018

The council chamber at Shire Hall, Cambridge, home to Cambridgeshire County Council. In Fenland 48 candidates are contesting nine seats.

The council chamber at Shire Hall, Cambridge, home to Cambridgeshire County Council. In Fenland 48 candidates are contesting nine seats.

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There is strong opposition to proposals to stop blind and partially sighted people getting free or reduced bus tickets, with claims the move will make people “prisoners in their own homes”.

In a bid to reach a balanced budget, council officers have proposed removing free or reduced cost bus tickets for blind people, and those with only partial sight, as well as proposals to stop other “discretionary subsidies” for users of community car schemes or dial-a-ride services.

Cambridgeshire County Council currently spends £250,000 a year on “non-statutory concessions” to subsidise a range of travel schemes which were originally designed to make transport available to residents who might otherwise struggle to access affordable transport.

These include:

• 15p per mile subsidy to users of community car schemes

• 50 per cent subsidy on dial-a-ride services for concessionary bus pass holders

• Free travel for blind and partially sighted concessionary bus pass holders before 9.30 on weekdays

• Subsidised taxi journeys in parts of South Cambridgeshire

According to a report which went before the council’s highways and community infrastructure committee today (October 9), removing these concessions could help the council save cash to make sure it can cope with providing other services.

The report reads: “The proposal is to remove these discretionary concessions and subsidies in order to improve the council’s ability to safeguard statutory services whilst ensuring that the authority is continuing to effectively meet our duties under the care act and the English national concessionary travel scheme.”

Councillors responded strongly to the idea, with many saying they could not support proposals to take transport options away from some of the “most vulnerable” people in the county.

Cllr Ian Gardener said: “This will impact heavily on some of the county’s most vulnerable people. I can’t agree to the removal of concessions for blind and partially sighted people. We are hitting the people who need it most. I do not think those are the people this authority should be hitting at this stage.

“We should be helping people like the elderly and the blind to get into places like St Neots, Huntingdon, and Cambridge. We can’t make them prisoners in their own homes.”

Graham Hughes, executive director of place and economy at Cambridgeshire County Council said he was getting “clear signals” about the unpopularity of the proposal, which he would be communicating to other officers.

Mathew Shuter, chairman of the highways and community infrastructure committee, said it was important not to alarm people.

He said it was only a proposal, and a decision would be made by councillors. He said he would not be able to support the scheme.

“We will make a compassionate decision,” said Cllr Shuter. “To me, it is an horrendous thing if someone has strived to get to work, then to have their concession taken away. I am sure we will look at this carefully.”

The proposal is set to go before the council’s economy and environment committee on Thursday (October 11).

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