PENSIONERS and people with disabilities will be able to travel free right across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough from this autumn. Transport chiefs from Cambridgeshire County Council and the major bus companies have taken three months to agree a plan. The
PENSIONERS and people with disabilities will be able to travel free right across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough from this autumn.
Transport chiefs from Cambridgeshire County Council and the major bus companies have taken three months to agree a plan.
The new free bus passes will be valid from 9.30am up to the last bus, Monday to Friday and all day at weekends and on bank holidays. They should be issued in late September or early October.
The councillors and the bus operators have joined forces to scrap what was described as an "ill thought out" Government bus pass scheme and replace it with a new system.
The highly criticised current scheme, set down by Government, has meant pensioners and those with disabilities, could only travel free in their own districts.
For example, when the bus went out of the region controlled by Huntingdonshire District Council or South Cambs and entered the area covered by Cambridge City Council, the free bus pass was not valid.
Now county, district and city council chiefs as well as bus operators in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have hammered out a deal to deliver a free countywide scheme which allows eligible passengers to cross district and city boundaries free.
Bus companies, including Whippet, Huntingdon and District, and Stagecoach, have agreed to cap their costs to make the scheme work, and Cambridgeshire County Council says it is prepared to spend £100,000 or more to offer pensioners and disabled people free travel.
This has been made possible because the county council is on course to meet tough Government targets for increasing passengers on buses which will attract financial rewards.
Deputy leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Councillor John Reynolds said: "We don't know how much the exact cost will be because we don't know how much it will increase travel.
"We believe it will be substantial. The bus companies are hoping that their subsidies will bring them more business in the long run.
"We told the Government 18 months ago that the district scheme wouldn't work, because there was already a history of it not working in Scotland, where there is now a national scheme.
"This Government scheme was ill-conceived and has made many people worse off. I am pleased we have all worked together to find a much better solution."
Cambridgeshire's scheme has been agreed to run until April 2008, when England, too, is to have a national scheme of free transport for pensioners and people with disabilities.
The leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, Councillor Ian Bates, said: "The new system should benefit people from Huntingdonshire and encourage people to visit our district and use Huntingdonshire businesses.