Free trams? Only for locals

Out-of-towners could lose their free travel on the resort's trams. Below: Passengers Jean and Keith Nicholson, who said the move would discourage them from coming to Blackpool.

Out-of-towners could lose their free travel on the resort's trams. Below: Passengers Jean and Keith Nicholson, who said the move would discourage them from coming to Blackpool.

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Out-of-town pensioners could be restricted from travelling for free on Blackpool trams in future as the council battles to rein in the cost of the concessionary fares scheme.

Blackpool Council is facing an overspend of more than £1m due to an increase in the number of passengers travelling for free.

Passengers Jean and Keith Nicholson, who said the move would discourage them from coming to Blackpool.

Passengers Jean and Keith Nicholson, who said the move would discourage them from coming to Blackpool.

And the Government has refused to give any additional financial assistance to the resort, forcing town hall chiefs to consider other options.

A report is being drawn up which will consider restricting free travel for some pensioners.

But Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn stressed the trams would remain free for OAPs resident in the town.

He said: “The Government has made it very clear they will not provide any assistance in this matter, which is disappointing, but not surprising.

“I have instructed officers to prepare an “all-options” report on this matter, which will consider the impact of restricting free travel for some pensioners on our tram network – which is a discretionary matter and not governed by statute.

“I must emphasise that I would not wish to see Blackpool pensioners lose this important concession.”

The popularity of the new tramway, which opened in April 2012, is the reason for the overspend. Blackpool Council receives around £4.4m in total each year from the Government to pay for concessionary fares, but the surge in passenger numbers on the trams increased the cost to around £5.5m.

The figures, which are in a report to the last meeting of the council’s finance and audit committee, show expenditure on the concessionary fares scheme has overspent by £1,068,000 during the last financial year.

The report says: “The reason for this overspend is a significant increase in passengers numbers of 21 per cent year-on-year.”

Other savings, notably £1.9m saved thanks to increased income from investments, have helped minimise the impact of the concessionary fares on the council’s overall budget.

The Concessionary Bus Travel Scheme,introduced in 2008, is Government run in conjunction with local authorities across England.

It provides people of state pension age with free off-peak bus travel on weekdays and all day at weekends and bank holidays.

Certain local authorities offer extra benefits for use within their area, which is why at the moment Blackpool also offers free tram travel.

The scheme in Lancashire is run jointly by Blackpool Council, Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council.

Government funding is allocated to each authority in order to reimburse public transport operators at an agreed rate.

Mixed reaction from passengers to tram fare plan

Passengers at South Pier tram stop included Joe O’Donoghue, 60, from Port Glasgow, near Greenock, in Scotland, who said: “I don’t think it’s a good idea. We come to Blackpool to enjoy ourselves, not to get robbed.”

Keith Nicholson, 72, from Sheffield, is visiting with wife Jean, 68.

Mr Nicholson said: “If they took the free transport away it would discourage us from using it because it would be more expensive.

“It’s brilliant at the moment because we can get up and down the coast even though we can’t walk far. ” But Louise Jenkinson, 50, from Grange Park, said: “It would be fair if they just kept it for people who live in Blackpool.”

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