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Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 13:10 UK

Around England on a free bus pass

Bus station in Newcastle (Photo copyright Freefoto.com)

By Amy Blackburn
BBC News

From Tuesday over-60s in England get a free pass to travel on all local bus networks - leading some to consider how far they can go, gratis. Senior citizen Richard Worrall, who has done it already, says don't forget your timetables... and your earmuffs.

After a thousand miles on 80 local buses in 11 days, Richard Worrall has put England's bus services well and truly to the test.

And as he travelled from his home town of Walsall to Chester, then to the Lakes and Tyneside, down to Dover and Land's End on the south coast, he didn't miss a single bus.

"The amazing thing was, the bus system worked so well," says Mr Worrall, 63. "There were some lovely bus stations - of course, there were some awful ones as well!

"It's much better than people make out. You're standing in the dark waiting for a bus, thinking 'is it going to turn up?' and then it does.

Richard Worrell meets Merseytravel Bus Committee Chair Councillor Denis Knowles
Richard Worrall (left) travelled round the UK, using 80 different local buses

"There were delays, but then I anticipated that. The problems I had were mainly in the morning, when I was travelling before 9.30."

Ahead of Tuesday's move to provide free bus travel throughout the country to all those who are over 60 or are disabled, the former Walsall mayor decided the best way to highlight the potential benefits of bus travel was to get on a bus. Again. And again. And again.

Doing it now under the new rules would save him about £180. And as well as impressed by the bus services, he was also reminded what a picturesque country he lives in.

"We shouldn't undersell how beautiful England is, and think we have to go somewhere else," he says. "Seeing it all at once is like putting together a jigsaw."

ACROSS ENGLAND ON A BUS
Map showing possible route from Penzance to Berwick-on-Tweed
This is how to get from Penzance to Berwick-on-Tweed in six days
Unlike Mr Worrall's journey, all these buses are after 0930 to qualify for free travel

And this form of travel for long-distance journeys could be just the ticket, he believes.

"It's free and the benefits are universal. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, it holds massive benefits for improving your quality of life.

"Because older people are so over-reliant on their cars, they do tend to worry about getting to the point when they can no longer drive", says Mr Worrall, who has only driven a car a handful of times in the past 20 years.

"This shows that it's not the end of your life when you can't drive a car."

Travelling on local buses also provides a unique insight into England's rural areas, Mr Worrall says.

"The nature of local bus services is that they wander off the main roads to villages, many of which are just gorgeous. A lot of the buses were double-deckers, and sitting at the top I had a great grandstand view.

"The only problem was the British weather - when I was travelling from Tyneside to Dover, there was fog the whole way down. I missed out on some fabulous views."

Ear-muffs

His key tips for other adventurers include be prepared and take timetables with you, use the internet if possible and one other vital piece of advice.

This scheme will open up tremendous opportunities for travel around our country
Councillor Mark Dowd, Chair of Merseytravel

"I've learnt that people who play loud music can crop up anywhere, so if I did it again I would take my earmuffs!"

Over 60s in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales already enjoy free national bus travel and the National Pensioners' Convention (NPC) would like the scheme to cross the borders within the UK.

The NPC says over-60s should not be seen as "a drain on local government resources" and it is unhappy the benefit does not extend to attending medical appointments before 9.30am or travel for carers of elderly or disabled people.

But these concerns will not stop the more enthusiastic over-60s from taking advantage straight away. Bus operators are preparing for the influx of older travellers, especially undertaking long-distance journeys.

"This is a great scheme which will benefit thousands of people, opening up tremendous opportunities for travel around our country", said Councillor Mark Dowd, Chair of Merseytravel.

On Tuesday, to mark the first day, Mr Worrall is taking 25 friends on a bus trip from Bridgnorth to Ironbridge, tracing the route of the Severn Valley railway.

"We're having a free day out, and we'll all be flashing our passes! In the summer, I'm planning to get a group together to go and see the Eden Project, travelling down on local buses.

"It'll be a wander to the South West and then a wander back, taking different routes through some lovely country. If you find a couple of nice country pubs to stop at, what could be better than that?"


Below is a selection of your comments.

These baby boomers really know how to look after themselves. Their war veteran parents over the last 20 years had to pay. Never heard them getting free national bus travel. And their kids had to get out big loans to go to University while they got full grants. The FREEBIE generation.
Jon, Northumberland

Fantastic, I can't wait until I am 60 next year. Richard Worrall has shown us what can be done! Eileen from Norfolk will have to wait¿ it is right, older people have contributed all their lives so this is one of their 'just' rewards and about time too!!
Susan, Crawley UK

The NPC is "unhappy the benefit does not extend to attending medical appointments before 9.30am". Why do pensioners need to be at appointments first thing in the morning? They have all day to visit the GP - I don't. Given all the recent discussion about doctor's opening times, can't they leave the early morning appointments for the rest of us who then have to get to work afterwards?!
Robert, Glasgow

Misguided, that word "free"! Yes, the pensioners will get a nice free ride but everyone else will be forced to subsidise it via higher bus prices. Good PR for the government; everyone else however will suffer further price increases. The bus companies will not let us off the hook as they still have to pay for the services. Gordon Brown cheers
Richard Kendrick, Leeds

That trip sounded fantastic....sure wish it had been in place when we were last over home in '95. We did a bus tour that was wonderful but cost the earth. This would have been terrific. Congratulations on taking the senior into consideration and giving them something they can really make use of. Even a one-day outing would be good for body, mind and soul.
Joan Clarke, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

I think it a fabulous idea to allow free bus travel and I hope it encourages more pensioners to get out and about, now they don't have to worry about the cost. But what about the rest of us? Those on benefits or low incomes, single parent families and full-time students? They are still discouraged from using public transport. As much as they say it won't, I can't help be feel that this will also cause a price increase for the rest of us.
Sarah-Jane, Leicester

I've recently turned 60 but never bothered to apply for a bus pass because it's easier to use the car for local trips and generally not worth the hassle. Now the bus can be used nationally, my application is in the post! I plan to visit relatives and get out and about as much as possible without the need to be the driver all the time.
Bill Hodges, Telford

As a disabled person, I will find the pass most useful when visiting unfamiliar towns and cities. I can use my car to drive to the outskirts of London or Birmingham or Manchester and then use the buses. No fares, no worries, no hassle, no stress. Best of all, because the scheme is now national, I don't have to worry about different areas having different passes.
Ray Penn, Eaglescliffe

Now all my Dad needs is a bus route which comes within walking distance of the house! More minibus routes are needed on housing estate roads, and routes to key locations such as hospitals and clinics.
Jan, Brum

So old people get free bus passes, what about young people? Will we have to cope with those ever rising bus fares? It's not fair for us, students have a lot to finance and travelling by bus is often a big cost for getting to college or other places.
Eileen, Norfolk

What a terrific idea. Now that's using your noodle, a really good incentive for the older generation to finally get to see their home. Well done UK.
Trevor Blundell, Canada




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