Labour councillors have called in the proposed decision by West Sussex County Council to end the concessionary rail card scheme for pensioners who consider this more useful for them than the ongoing free bus pass scheme.
West Sussex Labour Group Leader Cllr Michael Jones has led a call in, supported by three other Labour county councillors, to put the decision on hold until it has been given further consideration by councillors, with a view to abandoning the decision to scrap the facility.
The County Council provides Senior Persons Rail Cards as an alternative to the bus pass for eligible older people on a discretionary basis, over and above the statutory requirements within the national scheme.
In response to the publication of a decision by cabinet member for highways and transport, announcing the intention to scrap the concessionary rail card scheme for pensioners with effect from October 2020, the West Sussex group of Labour county councillors has called in the decision.
If this request is agreed by the council’s monitoring officer, the decision will be called in for further scrutiny by all members of the environment and communities select committee, where members may choose to support the decision, call for it to be modified, or even call for the cabinet member to abandon plans to scrap the scheme. It is this final option that Labour will be calling for.
Labour say ‘the Tory cabinet member has completely ignored the overwhelming response from the public consultation at the end of last year, where two thirds of respondents opposed the scrapping of the scheme, the vast majority of who were strongly opposed (59 per cent). In comparison, of the one fifth of respondents who replied indicating they were in favour of scrapping the scheme, it was notable that very few of them were actually rail card holders.’
The Labour group also state that the majority of respondents who are rail card holders stated they would not take up a free bus pass if the rail card was withdrawn, with many commenting that it would put up the cost of the train indicating they would still choose rail instead of the bus, with many stating they use rail for longer journeys and many of the respondents stating that they live in an area without good bus services.
The call in request by Labour councillors explains: “We are concerned about the negative message that this decision is sending to the residents of West Sussex. Cutting the rail card provision for 2000 residents appears to conflict with the County Council’s policies to encourage people to use public transport and removes a key element of choice between different forms of public transport.
“At worst, the risk seems to be that many of these residents would abandon sustainable transport in favour of more car journeys and some might be able to travel less, leading to greater social isolation. The current scheme is very helpful for residents who live in urban areas with frequent train services, such as Worthing and Crawley and also for residents in more rural areas with a train line where bus provision is very limited, such as Amberley, Barnham, Billingshurst and Balcombe.”
Speaking after making the request, Cllr Jones said: “Once again, we are in a crazy position where the county council tells us they want people to be using public transport and the council is claiming it is really taking emissions and the climate emergency seriously, yet their next act is to make it even more difficult for people to use their local public transport network.
“The rail cards have been made even more important for many local pensioners who rely on the concessionary travel system because the West Sussex Tories have already cut so many socially valuable bus routes they used to fund. Not only is this quite frankly a derisory saving for the social damage it is going to do for many older people who rely on being able to use the train, it is also going to do a lot of harm and take this county backwards.”