We all remember the statement from Tory Councillor Allan Cottam blaming pensioners for abusing the concessionary fare scheme. He claimed some were using their free passes every day, and as a result he had a £ 400k shortfall in his budget. We all knew this was a nonsense and the Labour Government had given Blackburn more than enough money to cover the scheme. In fact they had £ 400 k extra, which they duly gave away to their Tory friends in the Ribble Valley, Blackpool and Preston leaving many of our residents without buses as the Bus Company faced £1million cut from Councils.
At the November Executive Board meeting I asked Councillor Cottam, why since the introduction of a £1 fare each way on Community Transport, and the new 48 hour booking system, had the usage gone down 20%.
He was quite proud in announcing that since disabled users, and those who found it difficult to use the bus service had to pay this fare, they now found that they could use the regular bus service, (if they are lucky enough to have one). Wouldn’t it be great if a serious illness could just disappear if you had to pay £1?
I probed a little further and he quite openly stated that users, disabled and elderly, had been abusing this service and now there was less need than six months ago. He was joined by another Tory Councillor, John Slater, who admitted that the booking system was a shambles, there was not enough staff to cope with the system and having to give 48 hours notice meant in his words not mine “these old dears are booking the travel then not using it” though he did, with puckered pride in his chest, tell me he was going to introduce a” three strikes and you are out” system to stop people booking travel then not using it.
They both have completely missed the point. If you suffer from arthritis or some other disability that restricts your mobility, 48 hours can be a long time and conditions can worsen quite quickly. Let’s face it those suffering a serious illness have good days and bad days, some worse than others with no warning.
With the promise of “three strikes and you are out” residents who desperately need this form of travel are scared to book in case two days later they are unable to get out of their homes, they don’t feel very well, or the weather is too bad for them.
I suppose if I was a cynic I would say that this will lead to a drastic reduction in use and allow the Council to say there is no need of this service which will allow them to cut it completely saving a significant amount of money. Just as they have done with Community Centres, Arts in the Parks, and possibly King Georges Hall and Libraries in the near future,
Michael Law Riding, another Tory who has aspirations of taking on “Our Jack”, has cut the events budget from £ 250k down to £50k,getting ris of the wonderful Arts in the Parks, and at the same time cut the funding for books in the Library by 25% in two years, and is definitely going to close some leisure facilities in Blackburn.
The next battle cry from the Tories will be, very few people use the Library, why waste money on having it.
Watch this space, because low cost airlines could learn from these guys.