Your local Liberal Democrat councillors are aware that many local residents have concerns about the recent changes to the Council’s concessionary bus fares scheme. We thought it would be useful to explain why these changes have happened.
Just before the last General Election the Government announced that it was going to introduce free bus travel for pensioners. We supported this in principle, as this is an idea that Liberal Democrats have suggested before. But instead of introducing this sensibly through a properly funded national scheme, the government passed responsibility for making this work down to local councils and then failed to follow this with adequate funding.
This has meant that in Luton the Council has had to replace its current concessionary fares scheme, that gave Luton pensioners discounted travel within the area of Luton, Dunstable, Houghton Regis and on routes to other towns in the area, with the Government requirement of free travel in Luton.
As this would have meant giving pensioners a much worse deal, the Council has worked hard to put in place a sensible scheme that allows free travel throughout Luton, Dunstable and Houghton Regis and some discounted travel to other places. This was the new scheme that began on the 1st of April 2006.
However, there is a limited budget for subsidising buses and the Government haven’t even given the Council enough to cover the minimum scheme.
This has meant that in order to pay for free bus travel money needed to be moved from other spending on bus services. So the decision was taken to stop subsidising Sunday bus services and to provide discounted travel on a smaller number of routes to other towns in the area than they used to.
This is a real shame but the alternative is further increases in Council Tax.
We share many of the concerns of the residents who have contacted us about this. We accept that this situation is far from being an ideal one, but we believe we have tried our best to get the best deal we could for Luton residents.
Incidentally, the Government have now done what Liberal Democrats having been saying both locally and nationally for ages and announced that they will introduce a national free bus travel scheme, although we will have to wait until 2008. If they had done it this way in the first place they would have saved us all a lot of bother.