Thursday, 23 February 2012

OAP bus service facing cuts

PENSIONERS and the disabled face losing their right to use the door-to-door Ring and Ride minibus service under new cost cutting plans.


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Transport bosses want to tighten the criteria for which people qualify for the West Midlands services.

Meriden MP Caroline Spelman warned the moves will make life more difficult for people in villages like Knowle and Dorridge. Usage has already fallen after fares were introduced.

Currently people of any age can use the service if they have a mobility problem that makes it “difficult or impossible” to use other public transport.

But Government body Centro, which funds the service, now says people will only automatically qualify if they are 85 or older and get one of the following:

* Higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance
* Higher rate attendance allowance
* War Pension mobility supplement
* Are registered blind or partially sighted (BD8 or CVI certificate provided)

Those who do not meet any of the above will have to complete a questionnaire “to show why you find it difficult or impossible to use public transport”.

Example of people who will qualify include those with “documents relating to medical conditions”, those with mobility benefits and evidence from health professionals.

Those who are then not given membership can appeal and could be assessed by an independent occupational health adviser.

Centro said public transport is now easier to use through measures such as low floor buses but said the decision is “in light of increased costs”.

It cut its grant to service by £1.5m to £10m this year.

Conservative Mrs Spelman said: “I am concerned about these latest proposals, especially as I have been trying to get bus companies to increase rather than decrease the amount of public transport available for everyone in rural areas.

“People in the countryside and small villages will be the worst affected if these changes come into force.”

Those who want to use the service currently fill out a form declaring they have a mobility problem but Centro believes rules need to be tighter.

Yet the charity which runs the scheme, West Midlands Special Needs Transport, says there “there is little or no evidence” the current system is abused.

But Centro says this process does not assure bosses that cash is being “effectively targeted” and could “undermine the credibility of the service”. Forms will be administered by Centro in future, instead of the charity.

It comes after charges were introduced in April for the service, which runs local journeys from 8am to 11pm seven days a week.

Single journeys cost 60p for registered users while other adults pay £1.80. Bus passes cannot be used on the service. This cut usage by 14 per cent.

Centro has said while demand dropped after charges came in, the number of over 65s is set to double to 20 million in the next 40 years, putting pressure on Ring and Ride.

It said: “We must make sure that everyone who is registered for Ring and Ride now, and in the future, really needs our services.

“This will allow us to make sure that everyone who does need to use Ring and Ride can enjoy the very best transport service that we can provide.”

Those with short term mobility needs, such as people who have had a knee replacements, will be able to get temporary membership, it said.

The changes come despite Centro telling the Stourbridge News that “there is no change whatsoever about who can and cannot use Ring and Ride”.

A consultation on the plans closes on March 30. Click here to respond.

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