Thank you for your letter and attached petition of 5 October 2017 regarding the future funding of Dial-a-Ride and community transport.
The County Council does understand what a lifeline these community schemes are but is having to look at very extensive economies largely because of a loss of Government grant, rising demand for adult and children’s social care and increasing inflation. The Council is restricted in the amount by which it can increase council tax but by law it has to set a balanced budget. It is looking for savings of £140 million out of a budget of around £900 million from April 2019. Much of the Council’s expenditure is fixed by long term contracts or committed to statutory obligations so this is not an easy task. Of necessity, all discretionary expenditure has had to be considered to achieve this balanced budget and this includes subsidised local bus and community transport services.
At the Cabinet meeting on 16 October, officers were instructed to look again at ways to protect valuable services such as Dial-a-Ride. The annual cost of these is over £400,000 so it is not an insignificant sum.
Hampshire County Council works in partnership with district councils and the voluntary sector for the provision of community transport to make resources stretch as far as they can. Generally, local district or town/parish councils meet half of the cost of local Dial-a-Ride services and that funding is not part of the current proposal.
In addition, transport funding of just over £1 million received by Hampshire County Council from Government through Bus Service Operators’ Grant and another £1 million locally through developer contributions is expected to continue and may offer some future funding options, though these funding sources are not currently guaranteed into the future.
Looking at other sources of income to maintain services, the County Council is lobbying Government to consider a pilot scheme in Hampshire in which we would introduce a charge of £10 for older persons’ concessionary bus passes which are currently issued free. That would raise in excess of £400,000 a year and so allow us to continue to fund Dial-a-Ride schemes at their present level. Our recent consultation showed that respondents would rather pay something than lose a service.. There are no plans to make a charge for holders of a disabled person’s pass.
We must also ensure that available funding goes as far as it can. The cost of providing a passenger trip varies between districts and we want to share best practice so that the average can match the best in the county. Dial-a-Ride is not part of the statutory concessionary fares scheme and passholders currently pay half fare. At present the average Dial-a-Ride fare covers less than a fifth of the cost of providing the journey so fares may be the subject of future review and consultation, taking into account the need to avoid hardship and to reflect the individual user’s ability to pay.
In conclusion, thank you for your petition, the contents and support for which are noted and will be taken into account. The bus and community transport subsidy proposals have a number of stages to go through and no changes are anticipated before April 2019. The proposal for a concessionary bus pass charge would be on a pilot basis and will need approval from Government and local consultation but would enable Dial-a-Ride to continue on a similar level to now.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
Councillor Rob Humby
Executive Member for Environment and Transport