I caught a bus the other day and couldn’t help noticing that no-one paid the fare.
Everyone on it had grey hair, including me. That meant we over 60s had free bus passes, and it got me thinking about the fairness of this system.
Plenty of 60 plus people are still working: some through choice and others who need to carry on to 65 or beyond to get the level of income they want or need. There’s no doubt that this universal benefit is hugely popular.
Most over 60s have done the big things in life. They’ll likely have grown up children and probably small or non-existent mortgages. If renting, the chances are that the cost is less of a burden than it may be for much younger people with families. Some will have progressed in their careers to have good incomes. This is of course a generalisation – as it must be. Others will be unemployed and not doing very well at all. But it is undoubtedly a fact that some very well off people are being subsidised by people with less in their pockets.
On another occasion when I caught a bus a young man in front of me in the queue, maybe in his late teens, had to pay the full fare. I didn’t pay anything. I’m guessing he didn’t have a highly paid job, so he was subsidising people like me – and I must assume that after decades in the workforce I’m a lot better off than him. This seemed unjust.
There is, after all, no such thing as free bus travel. Someone has to pay to cover the cost of my journeys, and it’s people like this young man through the taxation system – which in the end compensates the bus companies. I suppose I could volunteer to pay my fare, and that gesture may be noble – but insignificant. So what, if anything, is to be done to save public money and, perhaps, keep down this £1bn plus cost to taxpayers?
What has no price is often seen to have no value, so it’s sometimes taken for granted. I suspect that many bus trips are made with no purpose. They happen because it costs nothing.
Scrapping free bus travel is the equivalent of an election poster saying: ‘I hate the old. Vote for the other lot.’ So that won’t happen. Means testing is out of the question as the bureaucracy involved could even increase the cost. But there are some options:
What about a concessionary charge? What if the over 60s were to be offered a local bus journey at, say, 50p? That’s less than a third of the local fare in Cardiff. It’s not much, but just enough to make you think whether the journey is necessary.
And why not make eligibility reflect pension ages? After all, 65 is the retirement age for men. Yes, it would be unfair to men right now – but not for long.
What about restricting free travel times? Concessionary fares could be outside peak travel times of 7-9am and 4-6pm. If you’re still working and need to travel in these times then pay the full fare.
Some people will hate any chipping away at this perk. Any suggestion of eroding it makes some people very angry indeed. A change in the rules would cost me, but it could reduce bus travel costs overall and save taxpayers’ money. That would benefit the people who most need it – like the young lad in my queue the other day.