Thursday, 1 December 2011

Bus Passes Cost More Than You Think

(posed by model)

A friend in Dundee uses her bus pass regularly, not only to travel round the city but further afield to Perth and Edinburgh.  I have no problem with that because she has never driven or owned a car.  Since her husband died some years ago, she has spent a few thousand pounds taking more and more angst-ridden lessons.  She even bought a car in the hope that by using her own car for her tri-weekly lessons, she would suddenly develop the necessary skills to be safe on the roads. The theory aspect of the test she passed with flying colours.

However, the car no longer decorates her garage and a couple of years ago she realised, at the age of 78, her hope of driving was an illusion. Since then she has been more appreciative of Scotland's national concessionary travel scheme and was shouting with rage when she telephoned me the other day. "You won't believe it," I was told over and over again.

Finally I was told 'what I wouldn't believe'.  That morning she had travelled on two buses to attend an appointment at Ninewells Hospital.  During the second journey a woman, who looked in her late 40s or early 50s, came up the aisle and sat in the seat in front of her, joining another woman of a similar age.  They obviously knew each other and discussed family for a few minutes. Then the new arrival proudly boasted to her friend that she travelled everywhere free.  The friend said, "How do you manage that?  You're not disabled." The reply was, "I use my mother's bus pass. With these electronic machines it's easy because the drivers never have time to check photos." Both women chuckled.

I started to research the cost of bus passes and found this blog which has eloquently dissected the use of bus passes in Edinburgh.

Can we afford to continue with the current regulations regarding the use of bus passes? Should we be curtailing their use to off-peak hours and limited mileage as happens in England?

The introduction of free bus travel opened up a world to many who otherwise may not have journeyed much past their own neighbourhood and for them it is a most welcome 'freebie' from a social and possibly health angle. Misuse seems to be rife and the blame can't all be placed on the shoulders of bus drivers.

We can't afford to continue the scheme if the fraud isn't managed. Why, when buses were fitted - just a couple of years ago - with the ticket machine technology, wasn't an anti-fraud system incorporated, such as fingerprint identity?  Many schools have been using such technology for some years.

In the first 4 years of the scheme £748 million was spent and it's increasing rapidly year on year. Perhaps the best place to start is with a system which will defeat the fraudsters. Once that resolves the abuse then perhaps we can honestly assess whether an independent Scotland can afford free bus travel.



Weekend Yachtsman said...

There will be a lot of hard decisions to make as to what an "independent" Scotland can afford.

Unless somehow the English are scammed into continuing to pay for it all, I predict that all the SNPs bribey-freebies will quickly run up against the brick wall of reality.

Free prescriptions, free bus travel, free uni education, free this, free that, free everything - enjoy it while you can, it's days are numbered.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

omg I hope the apostrophe police are not watching, I may be in trouble...

Brian said...

Those two women on the bus were using the same "everybody's" doing it excuse that the honourable members used to make hay with the parliamentary allowances scheme.
Dishonesty is the root cause of all problems. (For correspondents who claim religion is the answer, Silas Marner was exiled from his church sect as a result of the dishonesty of a fellow church member).

Anonymous said...

Well, enjoy the free oil Yachtsman, for its days are numbered.

We have a finance secretary who is actually quite good with figures, unlike the moron you have who is quite good at being mates with the 5th cousin of the Queen, Dave.

You can't accept that Scotland can manage its affairs well. It just has to be subsidy from mother England. Our priorities are and have always been different from those of England. That's why England voted a Conservative government and we voted only one member of party into parliament (and that was on the border). Doubtless we will both be better off once we have torn asunder this unholy union.

SR: this is a despicable use of the free bus pass, which was a noble scheme, actually introduced by the Liberals I think, when they were in government and continued by the SNP.

The difference this makes to the lives of old people is enormous. For example, there are people who can't afford to heat their homes, who get on to a bus and travel, just for the warmth it gives. They go with friends perhaps to Edinburgh or Aberdeen, and they chatter and keep warm and then they come back, having saved money. A benefit of the union is that we have no power to do what, for example, the French government has done, and limit the increase in prices of gas and electricity.

One way we can make this criminal activity less likely is to make the use of someone else's card a fraud, punishable by a steep fine, or imprisonment.

The fact that the London courts only see fraud of hundreds of thousands of pounds as being worth 4 months inside should not deter our infinitely superior legal system from treating criminals as criminals.

subrosa said...

I don't think all our good social policies will vanish in an independent Scotland WY,but some do need serious inspection, such as this one.

Apostrophe police are recovering from yesterday's hectic day off.

subrosa said...

There will always be those who think they can misuse any system Brian. That's the sadness of it all.

Observer said...

I am glad I can't pass for a pensioner! No offence but she must look the same age as her mum, or the bus driver would notice. Bus drivers are not by nature shy, & delight in pulling up people who are trying to defaud the system. I regularly enjoy the show when that happens. Mind you, that may be just a weegie thing. Perhaps we could set up a training course for the other drivers in how to put the fear of God into passengers.

subrosa said...

A fine would be reasonable if we collected them Tris, but the courts don't manage to get more than 50%.

The responsibility shouldn't be on the bus drivers. Fraud could be stopped if ticket collectors were employed once again.

I think the fraud is widespread and I also think that the amount of long journeys should be rationed to a degree. There are a couple of women I know who spend weeks every year travelling Scotland by bus pass. They could well afford to pay.

William said...

£748m. That's an astonishing figure to be spending shuttling old people around. How did we manage before the bus pass scheme? I'm afraid it's none of the Government's business whether old people go to the shops or not. We can't justify this kind of spending now or in the future. I've nothing against old folk but this is a luxury spend, not a necessity. Such schemes are always susceptible to fraud and this simply compounds the problem. You create a sense of entitlement across all sections of the population.

subrosa said...

Careful now William, careful. I may be 65 but I don't consider myself old. Well some days...

I'm all for this scheme although I don't possess a bus pass myself (mainly because I need a car to get to a bus and that kind of defeats the objective). But it does need re-examined to ensure that it's fair to those who do benefit from it and by that I don't mean the fraudsters.

Anonymous said...

The bus pas thing has been a great boon for many elderly people. It's allowed them to travel and continue to be more involved in things.

The abuse of the scheme is like any other abuse. It should be stamped out. The drivers should have to check the picture with the person handing the pass over. Finger printing or scanning or any other biometric identification is a worry. We know the power that be would just love it to have access to that and you can also be sure it won't be for our own good as they will say it is.

I'm sure the scheme also included trains did it not?

I think independence will bring more benefits rather than reduce them. Not hand outs benefits. Things that will make Scotland a better place to live.

I use buses in town although I'm not a huge fan. Not a lot of people seem to pay actual money for their use of the buses though. I'll away and check out the link to the Edinburgh bus pass information.

subrosa said...

I can't disagree TT, although I know it is over used by those who could well afford to pay. However, the point is - could an independent Scotland sustain such expense?

As for the fraud it certainly needs to be stamped out but to expect drivers to take full responsibility seems to be asking too much.

forfar-loon said...

An idea off the top of my head (always the best kind!): some sort of Oyster card type of thing, OAPs get a set amount pre-loaded on to the card which gives them a "reasonable" amount of free bus travel.

As ever the devil will be in the detail. What is a "reasonable" amount? It probably differs from urban to rural areas for one thing. But I imagine you could save a decent bit of cash from that £750M by having such a scheme. As we all know, not all old folk need the free bus by any means.

It wouldn't stop folk using other people's cards mind. When supposed OAPs get on the bus maybe the drivers can insist on seeing their copy of the People's Friend? Or alternatively a Murray Mint? I've never met a genuine OAP yet that doesn't have either one of them near to hand.

Hamish said...

Some good comments above on both sides of the bus pass argument.
The social benefits have been stressed, but it is inevitable that the scheme will distort transport usage to some degree.
People will make some unnecessary journeys just because they are 'free'. But this will add to congestion and pollution.
It also favours theh bus over other forms of transport such as rail, air, and foot.
A more basic point is that pampering old people is a form of ageism, and I take it we are all opposed to that.
I favour an enhanced basic State Pension which the recipient can spend as they wish.

subrosa said...

Now that is a good idea forfar-loon. Do hope it reaches the places it should.

As for the People's Friend and Murray Mints - I can't be a genuine OAP, but I have been known to carry excessive quantities of Co-op humbugs. I carry my reading on my iPad. :)

Furor Teutonicus said...

Flood the buses with inspectors?

They did that on the U and S-Bahn here. The trouble was, the fines were less than the average journey cost!!

Once that was sorted out the extra inspectors paid for themselves.

Brian said...

That's an excellent idea forfar-loon! How about allowing the credit on the clabby doo card to be spent on other things for those pensioners who don't wish to travel as much?
How about replacing the card with a subcutaneous chip inserted at the same time as the winter flu jab? It would cut down on fraud and lost cards and could help find old people who are temporarily uncertain of their exact locations.

subrosa said...

I would agree we don't need pampered by the state Hamish - or we shouldn't.

Good suggestion, but of course it will never happen. It's the many women of my age group who worked part-time in low paid jobs I feel sorry for. They're the ones who suffer most and refuse to collect pension credit.

Of course we shouldn't have pension credit either. If your excellent suggestion of a living pension came about.

subrosa said...

Inspectors Furor? Naw, ticket collectors. :)

subrosa said...

Brian, you paint a picture of us floundering around in the outside world unable to recognise our location.

I reserve that behaviour for my home. :)

Brian said...

I didn't say lost which is floundering. But many seniors do unfortunately suffer from dementia causing them to wander.

subrosa said...

Brian yes and that's a serious point. I was being facetious and I do realise the concern those will dementia cause their families are carers. Thankfully this hellish illness hasn't touched my nearest kin in the past couple of generations.

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