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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Bus fees scrapped for elderly
Man on bus looks out of window
City shopping is no longer costly for pensioners
Bus travel is now free for 600,000 people under a 17.7m Welsh Assembly scheme.

Fees have been abolished for pensioners and disabled people under the policy announced two years ago.

It builds on last year's local authority bus pass concessions to the groups, ordered by Transport Minister Sue Essex.

Cardiff Bus
People in Wales are the latest to enjoy free bus travel
The move is an oft-repeated key pledge from the Cardiff Bay administration to improve social inclusion across the country.

The scheme will mean hundreds of thousands of people will have prices waived.

Senior citizens, those aged 65 and over, in Northern Ireland have been enjoying free public transport since 1 October.

That scheme was paid for by the Northern Ireland Executive, but local Age Concern groups have complained it does not extend to all pensioners.

All Scottish OAPs will benefit in the autumn from a similar pledge, made back in 2000 along with the Welsh Assembly's commitment.

Policy hailed

Women aged over 60, men over 65 and registered disabled people will be entitled to the facility from 1 April.

But the policy's benevolence got off to a slow start, with public transport already limited due to the Easter break.

Who goes free
Disabled people
Men aged 65 or over
Women aged 60 or over
There have also reportedly been problems with issuing the new passes in time for the scheme's launch due to demand.

Transport Minister Ms Essex said in a statement: "Free local bus travel for pensioners and the disabled is the latest example of the Welsh Assembly Government delivering for the people of Wales."

All existing bus passes will be valid for the new scheme.

The Welsh Assembly is giving cash to Wales' 22 local authorities to help subsidise the majority of the fee.

Old bus passes are still valid for a short time and the plan also applies to buses crossing franchise areas.

"Drivers of every bus company have been given instructions to accept the old passes for the next month," said Clayton Jones of south Wales bus operator Shamrock.

Transport Minister Sue Essex
Sue Essex has unveiled the new bus fees policy
"In Scotland, if you lived in Lothian, you couldn't travel in to Grampian.

"In Wales, if you come from Ynys Mon, you can still travel to Cardiff.

"In Wales, the operators 72.3% of the average fair under a deal struck with the Welsh assembly."

But Gordon Carruthers, vice chairman of the Wales Pensioners organisation, gave the move a qualified thumbs up.

"I welcome it, but I am not in possession of the pass," he said, referring to an apparent delay in their delivery.

"The pass should be in my hand. There will be a problem if the driver refuses to accept the normal pass.

"I feel strongly we are being undersold a bit; the Welsh pensioner ought to be striving to get complete free travel throughout Wales - rail, road and waterway."

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Wales's Simon Morris
"The Assembly Government sees this policy as one of its major achievements"
See also:

22 Jan 02 | Wales
130m transport boost announced
19 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
'Broken pledge' on new buses
24 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Assembly outlines spending priorities
16 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Public transport in 'a mess'
18 Mar 99 | UK
Roads to change
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