Thank you for your letter and attached petition of 16 October 2017 regarding the future funding of Dial-a-Ride and community transport.
It is the case that the County Council 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.
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.
At the Cabinet meeting on 16 October, officers were instructed to look again at ways to protect valuable services such as community transport. The Council does understand what a lifeline these community schemes are. The annual cost of these is over £400,000 so it is not an insignificant sum.
Hampshire 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 support such a scheme if it would enable retention of a service which would otherwise be lost.
We must also ensure that available funding goes as far as it can. Councils of Voluntary Service, such as One Community, are increasingly working in clusters and this may offer efficiencies for transport through sharing overheads. 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.
Community transport user payments may be the subject of future review and consultation. Dial-a-Ride is not part of the statutory concessionary fares scheme and passholders currently pay half fare. The average fare paid in Eastleigh in 2016/17, after concessionary fares discount, was £1.65 per single trip and £2.10 return, whereas the cost of providing a trip was £10.01 per passenger (£14.05 including vehicle replacement costs). It is important that we ensure best value before looking at user contributions.
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