Some free bus and train travel for Islanders with “severe mental health challenges” and the travelling companions of Islanders who hold a free bus pass could be lost, as the Isle of Wight Council launches a consultation.
County Hall says it wants to align itself to many other parts of the country and says the changes would save money.
The local authority says travel between 9.30am and 11pm would not be affected. However, there are concerns that people with early appointments, or those using buses and trains to get to work, would be disadvantaged.
The government’s mandatory English National Concessionary Travel Scheme was introduced in 2008 and, in 2017/18, cost the Isle of Wight Council £4.72 million. It gives free, off-peak local bus travel to eligible older and disabled people in England. It is used by 31,471 older people and 3,721 qualifying disabled people.
The Isle of Wight Council also offers the New Islander Card, which is a local concession to residents who have a ‘severe and enduring’ mental health problem. It also provides a Travelling Companion concession, for Islanders who hold an English National Concessionary Travel Scheme pass on the grounds of disability, or those with a New Islander Card.
That concession gives free travel at any time, on any day of the week, on eligible local public bus and train services.
While the mandatory government scheme would remain, free travel outside the hours of 9.30am and 11pm could be lost.
In 2010, the council removed the additional discretionary element for older people, but not for those with a disability.
What could change?
The Isle of Wight Council is now considering removing:
- The New Islander Card (any-time free travel on Island buses and Islandline trains, for those with a “severe and enduring mental health problem”).
- The right to any-time free travel for a travelling companion of a person with a “severe and enduring mental health problem” and of those who meet the national disability criteria (free travel would remain between 9.30am and 11pm, and at any time on Saturdays, Sundays or bank holidays)
- Free travel on Island buses from 11pm to 9.30am for all qualifying disabled people (except on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays).
- Free travel on Islandline for all qualifying disabled people (because it says free travel is available on bus services operating in parallel).
Cabinet member for public transport, Councillor Ian Ward, said:
“For some time we have been looking carefully at the extra discretionary elements we provide for Islanders, above and beyond what is available in many other parts of England. This consultation will seek people’s views on how we can fairly and acceptably amend the scheme to bring us in line with a lot of other parts of the country, and generate savings to benefit Islanders in other service areas.
“We are also looking at the issue of medical appointments and whether the removal of the pre-9.30am free travel element would disadvantage some people, and through discussions with the clinical commissioning group whether this could be overcome in terms of appointment times to ensure those affected can still enjoy free bus travel.”