£1 fare launched to bring back elderly
BUS company First is to trial £1 early-morning fares for pensioners after a council subsidy cut.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council slashed the subsidy by £100,000 earlier this year, which means senior citizen pass holders boarding buses before 9.30am on weekdays have to pay regular adult prices rather than travel for free.
First says it has seen a "very significant" drop in passengers as a result and is to trial the £1 fares across all of its Stoke-on-Trent routes for four weeks from September 8.
Bosses believe the move will boost businesses in the region, which may have seen a drop-off in trade.
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It comes as members of the North Staffordshire Pensioners' Convention prepare for a day of action on Monday calling on the council to rethink the controversial initiative.
First Potteries general manager Peter Walch, pictured, said: "Since the council removed their funding we have seen a drop in customers before 9.30am – a very significant number of people are choosing not to travel by bus. "We are going to trial this £1 concessionary fare to see if it is worthwhile doing. It's our way of saying we've listened to our customers and we are trying to address the situation.
"It will assist our business of course but I think it will also help the market traders and shops.
"Large numbers of people are not going in to town, and even if they were just going to spend £2 that adds up and shops will have seen a downturn in business.
"Also some of the people that have concessionary passes still work and they will now be using their cars instead."
First is to trial the £1 fare for four weeks from September 8, and Mr Walch said that could be extended for a further two weeks.
He added: "If the trial goes well we will look to extend it further and maybe introduce it as a permanent ticket.
"It will be available on our Stoke-on-Trent routes as Staffordshire County Council haven't cut their subsidy."
The city council first unveiled plans for the controversial cut last year as part of a bid to save £24 million from its annual budget. It came into force on April 2.
On Monday around 60 pensioners are to take part in a day of protest organised by the North Staffordshire Pensioners' Convention.
Members will begin their demonstration in Hanley from around 11.30am before travelling by bus with posters and banners to the Civic Centre in Stoke, where they will hand over a message to the council.
It reads: "Your decision has caused great disillusionment among older and disabled people in the city and has had a major detrimental impact on their lives.
"Free bus travel is a tremendous benefit for older and disabled people.
"The opportunity to get out and about has improved the quality of life of millions of people.
"It is also cost-effective because it improves people's physical and emotional well-being and helps them to cope without needing NHS and social services help.
"Your decision in February was an erosion of that benefit. We urge you to think again."