23 February 2008

Quietly, without trumpets, a revolution has taken place in Cornwall.

The amount of money spent in the six Cornwall district council areas on free bus travel – largely free bus travel for the elderly – last financial year was nearly £4.4 million, a vast leap up of about 340 percent over the previous year. This is the measure of the success of the new free travel benefit within a bus traveller’s county of residence and which began in April 2006. Before that there was a half-fare scheme.

The free bus travel scheme was introduced by our central government, by Labour.

Elderly people of Cornwall are getting about, visiting friends, visiting shops, getting out and engaging with their environment. That is good for mental, emotional, and physical health and independence; those are goods in themselves but additionally in economic terms likely reduce the call on the help services and perhaps increase spending in now-accessible local shops and on local services. The scheme also helps those elderly with meagre pensions.

For users the scheme is simplicity, just a plastic ticket.

The scheme applies all over England and includes some disabled people too. “County of residence” is my shorthand way of naming the travel areas in an England with various local government areas. There are separate schemes in the rest of Britain.

This April the scheme is extended beyond county borders and applies to travel on local, not scheduled, bus services across county borders. Hardy elderly people in Cornwall, using a succession of local buses, could travel free to Berwick.

Around eleven million elderly people and disabled people benefit from free bus travel.

Free bus travel is a civilised benefit. Of course in rural counties like Cornwall there are not and never will be the bus services that there are in large urban areas. Of course it can take a long time to get between distant places here on rambling buses. But this is a great and simple socialist scheme.

Celebrate it.

Now ask yourself: is this something the Conservatives would have introduced?