Hard road for free county fares

PUBLISHED: 12:11 23 June 2006 | UPDATED: 21:57 28 May 2010

Cllr Geoff Harper

Cllr Geoff Harper

FENLAND Council has opened discussions with South Cambridgeshire District Council to explore ways in which all Cambridgeshire authorities can come together to deliver a free-countywide bus fare system for people over 60 or who are disabled. Fenland has es

FENLAND Council has opened discussions with South Cambridgeshire District Council to explore ways in which all Cambridgeshire authorities can come together to deliver a free-countywide bus fare system for people over 60 or who are disabled.

Fenland has estimated that its contribution to such a countywide scheme would be £300,000 a year. It has this year already put in £260,000 to operate the current free bus fare scheme and has set aside an additional £40,000 as its contribution to the expanded scheme.

For free countywide bus fares to become a reality for people over 60 or with a disability, all authorities in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area have to agree to put in additional funding.

Fenland and South Cambridgeshire District Councils are now actively working together to remove obstacles to the implementation of a countywide scheme, such as the one that is now in operation in Norfolk.

As such a countywide scheme has never before been achieved, it is understandable that each authority is nervous about the costs, which are at present estimates.

Authorities cannot afford to be in the position of setting up a scheme and then finding that the costs escalate to the point where it is no longer sustainable.

Fenland and South Cambridgeshire authorities are now looking forward to detailed discussions with the other authorities involved in order to iron out any concerns and move the scheme forward.

With local government funding already stretched, it is out of the question that there can be any cross subsidy of one authority to another. Indeed, it would be illegal to do so. With this in mind, local authorities must agree contributions from within their own budgets to make the countywide scheme work.

Councillor Geoff Harper, leader of Fenland Council, said: "It is important to us that the elderly and those with disabilities in Fenland are not isolated simply because they cannot afford bus fares. We have set aside an additional £40,000 as our contribution to a countywide free fares scheme and we are working closely with our counterparts in South Cambridgeshire with a view to delivering such a scheme.

"The issues and cost implications for each authority are extremely complex and it is only by working together that we will be able to achieve our goal.

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