Hertfordshire County Council plans to axe free transport to 15 day activities

The plans could be phased-in by July

Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 11:48 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 11:50 am

Hertfordshire County Council has drawn up plans to charge users of a number of day services for transport that’s currently free.

Under existing arrangements transport to 15 voluntary sector day activities in the county has been free – even though there is NO subsidised transport for the hundreds of other groups.

But the county council says it’s now difficult to justify why some people should receive free transport – when others don’t.

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And they have drawn up plans to bring in transport charges that are ‘fair and consistent’.

On Wednesday (May 6) the plans were backed by a meeting of the county council’s special cabinet panel.

And – if backed by a meeting of the cabinet next week (May 18) – they could be phased-in by July.

As part of the proposals from July (2020), those passengers would be charged a flat rate of £2 for their journeys to the 15-day activities.

And 12 months later, from July 2021, they would be charged the same rate as other ‘dial-a-ride’ services, which makes a charge depending on the distance travelled.

That means passengers would be charged £2.10 for the first mile and 50 pence for each subsequent mile – meaning a three-mile journey would cost £3.10.

According to a report to the cabinet panel, a similar three-mile journey would cost up to £2.90 by bus, £5 by community transport and up to £10.49 by taxi.

Speaking at the meeting of the special cabinet panel, assistant director for planning and resources Helen Maneuf said that in these cases the transport was operating without any form of charging because of an “historical anomaly”.

And councillors heard that informal and formal consultation on the proposals had highlighted a number of concerns.

Some, it was reported, had concerns that transport charges would lead to people attending fewer or none of the sessions, to increased isolation and that some passengers with dementia may struggle to use money.

However, more than half (65 per cent) of the 110 people who completed a questionnaire as part of the consultation said they would continue to use the day services as usual – compared to 34 per cent said they would have to stop.

And, it was reported, 65 per cent said they would not change how they used the transport service.

Most respondents (54 per cent) said they did not think the potential cost of the transport was value for money – with some saying it would cost them up to £1500 a year. And 43 percent said it would impact on family or informal carers.

Councillors were told that it was in response to concerns raised as part of the consultation, that a phased approach was now planned.

And they were also told that it would be possible to waive fees in circumstances of financial hardship.

At the meeting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Ron Tindall said he had “mixed feelings” about the proposals.

He agreed that there should be standardised services across county – but he said these historic exceptions should have been picked up “ages ago”.

And he said there could be implications for those travelling furthest distances, from 2021 – and that the council would have a duty towards them, particularly as this could be their only lifeline to getting out.

He also highlighted concerns that this could lead to carer breakdown, which was the other important issue going forward.

Labour Cllr Dreda Gordon also said that she had mixed feelings, but understood the need for consistency.

She said she had concerns for those living in more rural areas where facilities may not be so close-by and they may end up having to pay more.

Executive member for adult care and health Cllr Richard Roberts said that while he accepted the concerns, he said it was the way forward and an “appropriate way forward.”

Dial-a-ride rates will be reviewed annually and increased in line with inflation, measured by the consumer price index.

According to the report to the panel, it is estimated that in the first year of charging income to the county council would be £53,000. In the following year (2021/22) that figure would be £83,000.