A card offering discounted bus travel to young people in West Sussex is due to be scrapped, despite 96 per cent of consultation responses preferring to keep the scheme.
The 3in1 Card was introduced by West Sussex County Council in 2007 but since a £50 charge was brought in the number of users has dropped significantly.
As well as acting as a form of ID the card offers users cheaper bus travel and a range of discounts at selected attractions.
But due to budget pressures the county council has reviewed the scheme, which currently costs £1.13m, and has decided to scrap the card from the start of January 2017.
Mitigation measures include support for those from low income families, and negotiations with the bus operators, schools, and colleges to see if a new offer for students could be created in the absence of the 3in1 Card.
An eight-week consultation held earlier this year asked residents their views on whether the council should cease the scheme, cease with mitigation for 16 to 19-year-olds on low income, or keep the scheme as it is.
More than 2,500 responses were received with 96 per cent choosing ‘keep the scheme as it is’ as their preferred first option.
According to the officers’ report ‘respondents’ opposition to ceasing the scheme decreases incrementally when more notice is given, from 90 per cent (2016) to 80 per cent (2018) strongly opposed’.
The county council’s environmental and community services select committee was due to discuss the proposed decision at a meeting yesterday (Wednesday, June 22).
Michael Jones, a Labour county councillor and a member of the select committee, said: “I’m angry but not surprised at the intentions expressed in this report.
“It shows that throughout this supposed ‘consultation’, the Tory leadership have only been looking to cut this, whatever people responded.
“I believe this report will be greeted with the anger and dismay it deserves from the thousands of young people and their families right across West Sussex who rely on this card. It is conveniently forgotten that it saves our families far more money than it costs the council to run, never mind that it helps relieve financial pressure on those families in the ‘squeezed middle’ who pay their way for everything – the report acknowledges it is all about money.
“Perhaps if the council wasn’t haemorrhaging money in failing out sourced contracts, recruitment consultants’ fees and advertising campaigns, this wouldn’t be such a problem for them?
“A scheme that was good for the environment by cutting the number of car journeys and traffic congestion, and helped our young people get to the places they wanted to study is being scrapped merely because the cabinet member is looking at the bottom line. Every area of the county is going to be hit by this short-sighted Tory cut.”
The county council is proposing to bring in targeted help for 16 to 19-year-olds on low incomes requiring bus travel costing around £70,000 a year, while also investigating transitional arrangements for pupils up to 16 from low income families who are card holders, attend their closest out of catchment school, and are not eligible for free travel under school transport policies.
The scheme was intended to foster bus use in young people and reduce congestion, but according to the county council now ‘primarily helps with the financial burden of choosing education provision that is not covered by the School Transport Policy or statutory entitlement’.
During the consultation 685 responses said that bus travel would be too expensive if the scheme was removed.
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