On the BBC Political Show today, there was an item about the controversy between the government, and the bus companies concerning the supply of bus passes to everyone who is 60 or over years of age. The government has set aside money to cover the cost, while the bus companies can see problems of inequality between those who service highly attractive holiday sites, and the rest, with respect to reimbursement. It is easy to realise that this complaint is totally valid, but the government spokeswoman seemed adamant that not only had they supplied enough money but the bus companies had no argument. I have a few though.
I didn’t retire until I was 70, by which time I had bought a motor home and travelled over a lot of Europe in periods of six weeks at a time, and parts of Britain more often. I played golf, I walked for miles, and was a keen and strong swimmer, also I was not on the breadline. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-80s that I applied for one of those blue cards to allow special parking for the disabled. Others are not as fortunate as I, and their problems should be catered for as far as is sensible, and equable. I have had a bus pass since I was 65, but as there are very few suitable bus routes, I have used it rarely. The ability to take public transport for a change of scene, if one has no car, and thus change one’s perspective from time to time, is essential for both physical and psychological reasons, and should be encouraged at all levels and particularly in the aged. Those pensioners with low incomes should be assisted by being given a number of free passes, to travel to places of their choice. On the other hand, if the travel is free, a trip round Britain, which with the government system would appear to be valid, is the opposite to this, it is abusing the privilege.
It would seem more logical, and reasonable that some travel, is provided free on the same principle as parking for the disabled, to provide for a proven need. On the basis that the elderly require to be encouraged to get out, shop, see new sites, a limited system could be provided with a more general bus pass for those over 70. Those between 60 and 70 whose income is too low, or are handicapped, could apply over and above a free pass for the local area, for a limited amount of free extended travel, which they would obtain in the form of vouchers they could use to pay for the extended journeys they propose to take. This will enable them to visit relatives who live some distance away, in this society of ours that is so scattered. Those over 70 would also be able to apply for the vouchers which would provide a limited amount of free extended travel per annum.
From my own experience I know that no matter how healthy you are at 60, you rogressively wear out with time, your need to travel and see new places diminishes exponentially, because it becomes repetitive with those within easy reach, and too exhausting for those far off. Setting up the system will be expensive initially, and will take some organisation on the lines of the blue badge. There will be teething troubles, quite a bit of discussion as to who is entitled to get what, but with time, after a period of experimentation by the recipients of the free travel, the system will bed down at a lower level than is anticipated, will be more equable for both the public and for the transport authorities, and one might be able with this voucher system, coupled with a limit of only travelling at off-peak, to actually apply the system also to the railways.
When I heard what was said on the television, the total take-it-or-leave-it attitude of the spokeswoman gave the impression that she considered what was on offer was a charity, if it didn’t suit everybody, hard luck!