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Welsh free travel shake-up


06 July 2018

Bus operators in Wales are to be reimbursed on a regional basis for carrying passengers under the Welsh Government’s concessionary travel scheme.

Since the pioneering nationwide free travel was established in 2002, each of the 22 unitary authorities has made reimbursement payments to local operators. The Welsh Government reimburses the councils from an annual budget that currently totals about £59m, with a further £2.2m to meet their administration costs.

A report for the Cardiff Capital Region cabinet reveals that the Welsh Government “is looking for progress with regionalisation of concessionary fares reimbursement administration”.

Bev Fowles, chair of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Wales, said operators would welcome regionalisation, particularly larger ones such as First Cymru and Stagecoach South Wales, which currently submit claims to numerous unitary authorities.

“I could see how it could well quicken up the payments because the people processing them wouldn’t be burdened with other duties,” he said, adding that councils wanted to regionalise such functions because many now lacked the resources to handle the work.

Fowles said regional payments would have been instituted well before now had Edwina Hart, the previous Welsh transport minister, not abolished the four regional transport consortiums in 2014. “For some reason, she bombed the whole lot. They were re-created very quickly after she left.”

Regional reimbursement is a halfway house between the current arrangements and the Government itself becoming the travel concession authority for the whole of Wales. The latter was favoured by 40 per cent of respondents in a recent consultation on the scheme’s future. This was the most popular option, but regionalisation was not among the choices offered.

Supporters of the centralised option said it would reduce administration costs and inconsistencies between councils, for example over issuing of passes to companions of disabled travellers.

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