Issue 5

CAN YOU SHOVE YOUR GRANNY ON THE BUS?

By Doug Anthoney, Communication and Campaigns Officer, Age Scotland

The bus pass (the National Concessionary Travel) scheme has been of huge benefit to older people in Scotland, yet it is only of value where a suitable bus service is available. Where it is not, people who are on low incomes, have mobility difficulties or health conditions – or, indeed, all of these – can experience severe isolation and loneliness.  Analysing these aspects points up the real importance of effectively designing even universal public services to take account of specific local circumstances.

Over the last few months, Age Scotland has spoken to older people across Scotland about their experiences of transport. In rural areas we met people who are virtual prisoners in their own homes because of lack of access to suitable transport. One woman told us she had “spent 2012 waiting to die”, and we were told repeatedly about bus services that were so infrequent and unreliable they were of little value to older people.

We learned that even in our biggest cities there are older people who can only access services and social opportunities with great difficulty, if at all. In Glasgow, residents in Pollokshields told us that their community was a public transport “dead end”, with round trips to and from hospitals talking up to 6 hours. In Edinburgh’s Dumbiedykes, over the road from the Parliament, campaigners have been petitioning the City Council for action, as a change in a bus route through the estate left frail older people virtually marooned in winter by the steep, icy hill they had to walk up to the bus stop.

However, we also found some excellent examples of Community Transport intervening in circumstances where mainstream transport options were limited or non-existent. From dial-a-bus services, to car schemes, to mini-busses run by lunch and social clubs, these made the difference between individuals living independently within their own communities, or becoming lonely and isolated.

To complement our case studies of the personal circumstances of some typical older people we commissioned some research  to identify the extent of transport poverty in Scotland, and the role of Community Transport in alleviating it. In remote rural areas we found 70% of people aged over 60 either did not have, or did not make use of, the free bus pass, compared to 31% in large urban areas. However, we should not  assume that private transport accounted for non-usage of the pass, as we know that 63% of single pensioner households have no access to a car.

… we were told repeatedly about bus services that were so infrequent and unreliable they were of little value to older people.

Through our research into Community Transport, we discovered that public funding was uneven across the country. For example, while the average local authority spend was £125,635, some councils spent nothing, compared to others with higher investments. Nevertheless, projections for Community Transport usage by older people, based on even a static level of demand, is expected to increase from 70,000 today as a result of demographic change to 84,000 by 2022. Meanwhile, many third sector Community Transport providers shared their anxieties about future funding as public resources dwindle in the economic downturn.

Age Scotland believes that Community Transport is vital for ensuring older people have the support they need to live healthy, independent and fulfilling lives, and that its importance will grow as our population ages. With worrying signs of commercial bus operators withdrawing from routes on the grounds of cost, expectations are likely to increase that Community Transport will intervene in such incidences of ‘market-failure’ to prevent even more older and disabled people becoming cut off from society.

That’s why we’ve launched ‘Still-Waiting’, a campaign calling on the Scottish Government to extend the Concessionary Travel scheme so the bus pass can be used on Community Transport services. We’re also asking that re-imbursement of Community Transport providers is on a 100% basis as, unlike commercial operators, they only charge an average of 10-20% of the overall cost of each journey, so they cannot cross-subsidise services from profits.

This proposal will be of immediate benefit to older people who currently use, and pay for, Community Transport, by enabling them to receive the service for free. It will also help stimulate growth and development of Community Transport services by creating a more secure and sustainable income stream.

Age Scotland believes that Community Transport is vital for ensuring older people have the support they need to live healthy, independent and fulfilling lives

Of course, there will be a cost. Bringing the current 3.5 million Community Transport journeys each year in Scotland into the Concessionary Travel Scheme will require an additional £11.2m per annum, excluding start-up costs such as installing card reading equipment in vehicles and any additional demand generated. However, we believe that, in the longer term, this will be more than offset by preventative savings. These include reductions in the cost of missed NHS appointments (currently £5.5m for over 65s) and savings in the cost of mental health conditions in older people (estimated at over £66m per year). Furthermore, to ensure our proposals can be fully costed from the outset, Age Scotland has suggested an upward adjustment of eligibility age for the bus pass – potentially rising from age 60 to the current state pension age.

Age Scotland and its partners will be gathering signatures for  the Still Waiting campaign petition up to September 2013, online at www.agescotland.org.uk/stillwaiting, through our network of charity shops, and with the help of our member and partner groups across Scotland. We’re also asking members of the public to raise the issue with their MSPs directly. So far, there are encouraging signs of cross-party consensus on the issue, with MSPs from Scottish Labour, including Johann Lamont, the Liberal Democrats, including Willie Rennie, and the Conservatives, giving it their explicit backing.

We know that there are SNP parliamentarians, many of whom represent rural and mixed areas, who are concerned about transport poverty in their constituencies and we’ll be discussing these concerns with them.

By Doug Anthoney, Communication and Campaigns Officer, Age Scotland

Issue 5

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