Second fares hike plans for ring and ride users

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A fares hike for older travellers using Wigan and Leigh’s ring and ride service is under consideration again.

And those who currently use concessionary passes may be forced to fork out for the first time as part of proposals currently being considered by Transport for Greater Manchester.

Further plans have been suggested for the removal of a travel voucher scheme, which enables travellers within the same bracket to use social car schemes.

Taken together over the course of a year, the three moves could save Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd (GMATL) which runs the service, an anticipated £690,000.

Last year the age limit for ring and ride customers was raised from 60 to 70, for those without significant disabilities, as part of a widescale review, said to have been prompted in part by the challenges presented by an ever-ageing population.

Councillors have been told that the annual grant for GMATL for 2016-17 was £4.65 m- and the current operating costs are £5.4m.

Currently the grant has been supplemented by service revenues and the GMATL’s own reserves.

Howard Hartley, TfGM’s bus head, said in a report: “Users of the service, who currently pay a single fare of £1.20, considered the fare levels to be reasonable, to such an extent that if it meant securing of the service an increase is needed this would not be unwelcome.”

Last year the fare was increased from £1 to £1.20, after it had not been subject to a system-wide review since 2011.

The new suggested fare for users is £1.50 and it is estimated that this would provide a £90,000 for the scheme’s coffers.

Another possibility being suggested is withdrawing the ability of Concessionary Plus pass holders, to use the service for free.

An estimated 41 per cent of ring and ride users, in the first three months of this year, are said to have presented concessionary passes while travelling.

If these passengers paid fares, according to transport officials, then it is believed that around £300,000 per year could be recouped.

A similar figure could be saved if travel vouchers for social care schemes were withdrawn, a TfGM committee has heard.

Board members at GMATL, asked for their views, have agreed that consideration should be given to a fare increase and the organisation has supported plans to introduce online booking for customers.

But senior figures believe that an intermediate fare level could be set for Concession Plus pass holders, instead of full fares, and they have also voiced concerns about the travel vouchers proposal.

Earlier this year passenger forums were staged in all of the 10 Greater Manchester districts, requesting passengers’ views as part of the consultation.

The changes which were introduced last year are said to have resulted in a 12 per cent reduction in the overall number of patrons for ring and ride routes across the region, meaning fewer vehicles were eventually required to operate the service, generating its own saving.

Another report will be presented to TfGM later in the year so the ring and ride review plans, which would come into force from next April, can be finalised.