Blind users fight to retain free bus travel in city
BLIND and partially sighted bus users are fighting a council's plans to stop their concessionary travel.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is considering bringing free bus travel before 9.30am to an end.
Charities including the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Action for Blind People (Action) have called on councillors to dismiss the idea.
And users claim the move could leave them in financial difficulty as many rely on public transport.
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Sharon Sutton, aged 46, of Beaconsfield Drive, Blurton, has diabetic retinopathy, which means she is now partially sighted.
"The government is saying get disabled people into work, then this happens," said Sharon, who works as an administrator at Action's Hanley-based office.
"I've got a problem with my foot so I have to get the bus because I can't walk very far.
"If I'm forced to pay to travel before 9.30am it would put a financial strain on me."
By ditching the free travel, the city council estimates it could save £100,000-a-year.
At the moment, bus pass holders who are aged over 60 or disabled enjoy free travel 24 hours a day, with the city council picking up the bill.
Similar plans to scrap concessionary bus travel before 9.30am in the city were rejected two years ago.
Rebecca Swift, RNIB regional campaigns officer for West Midlands, said: "If this proposal were to go ahead, many people would find the costs of travelling before 9.30am too expensive, limiting how often they could travel before that time.
"Blind and partially sighted people, in particular, rely on bus travel as their sole means of transport, as they don't have the option of driving a car and are unable to fund repeated taxi journeys."
The campaign to stop the proposals has also won the support of MPs.
Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt has contacted the authority to formally object.
He said: "I can appreciate why they would remove it on budget grounds for OAPs, but I have reservations over removing the concession for blind and disabled groups, as they are going to find it more difficult to get to work.
"We want to be a working city and disabled and blind groups want to be a part of that.
"We need to remove the obstacles to help encourage this."
Councillor Adrian Knapper, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for transport and planning, said: "We have been listening very carefully to the feedback we have received on all the budget proposals, and in this case, officers met with Action for Blind People Stoke-on-Trent last week to hear more about their point of view.
"Officers also met with the RNIB yesterday to talk through the proposals. A meeting of the full council will take place on Thursday to decide on all the proposals and agree a legal budget for the new financial year."