In Support of Concessionary Bus Fares

April 25, 2007 2:30 AM
By Mark Hunter

I shall be brief, Mr. Cook. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on securing the debate, and he contributed thoughtfully on a subject that has caused considerable concern on all sides. I speak as a former member of the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority and a keen supporter of public transport, whether bus, light rail or the railway system.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, there is all-party support for free travel for pensioners after 9.30 am, and it has been a considerable success. However, he will be aware, as will the Minister, that many of us remain gravely concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposed move. I refer, of course, to the decision by bus operators in Greater Manchester, which has been mentioned, to rack up concessionary fares for children by 40 per cent., from 50p to 70p. I shall not go as far as one member of the Greater Manchester PTA, who referred to the operators as "robber barons?, but I certainly understand where that comment came from. Whether or not the problem is down to the Government seriously underestimating the take-up of free fares among older people, we are certainly all aware that the situation is serious, and I look forward to the Minister perhaps giving us some idea of what the Government intend to do, or might be able to do, about it.

When the Minister responds, I encourage her to touch on the way in which the money is distributed to transport authorities. I am referring, of course, to the fact that it goes via local authorities, and we have heard of the problems that that has caused-it was certainly clear who the winners and losers were in Greater Manchester. I have no problem with Manchester, as the regional capital of the north-west, benefiting most from the proposals, but I certainly do have a problem with the fact that my borough of Stockport, as well as those of Trafford and Bolton, received nothing very much as a result of way in which the funding formula works. With those few comments, I would be grateful to hear the Minister's response to the debate.

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