Pensioners hit by changes to bus passes

Elderly passengers in Bognor Regis could be hit by changes to free bus passes.

When West Sussex County Council takes over the administration of the concessionary bus pass scheme on April 1, pensioners in the Bognor Regis area will no longer be able to ride buses for free before 9.30am on weekdays.

The change will bring the area into line with national guidelines, which state passes can only be used between 9.30am and 11pm Monday to Friday.

While passes will still be valid all day at weekends and bank holidays, there are fears the change will affect those who rely on buses to get around.

Gwen Brooke, 74, of West Street uses the 700 service to get to Chichester most days – often before 9.30am.

“I must use the bus at least four times a week, sometimes everyday. The whole reason I get the early bus is to avoid the crowds walking around the shops,” said Mrs Brooke.

“I honestly do not see what harm letting us carry-on using the buses before 9.30am would cause.

“You will still get the same number of people using the buses, they will just all be packed on to the one closest to 9.30am.

Bonnie Matthews, 71, uses the 700 service every weekday to get to Yapton, where she looks after her eight-month-old grandchild.

“I catch the bus everyday so I can look after my grand-daughter, I have to be there for just after 9.30am so my daughter can get to work for 10am,” said the Esplanade resident.

“If I can’t use my pass before 9.30am I will have to pay the full fare, which over five days will take a considerable chunk out of my pension.

“People tend to think older people do not contribute to society but a lot of my friends do volunteer work and they rely on the buses for transport.

“If they have to pay the full fare it will make doing voluntary work that much more expensive.

“The government has said it wants more of us to volunteer as part of the big society, but the council is making it more expensive to do that,” she said.

Residents in the Chichester district are not affected by the change as they are already not allowed to use their bus passes before 9.30am.

Lionel Barnard, West Sussex County Council deputy leader with responsibility for highways and transport, said: “It’s important for us to offer a scheme which is consistent across the whole county as at the moment there are variations in different district and boroughs.

“We are actively talking to bus operators about the changes.”

When it takes over the council will offer additional services including free all day weekday travel for people with disabilities, companion passes for people who need to assist people with disabilities and senior citizen railcards as an alternative to the bus pass in most areas.

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