A decision to stop offering senior rail cards as an alternative to bus passes has been supported by a West Sussex County Council scrutiny committee.
The decision, which will save the council around £50,000 over two years, had been called in for further debate by Labour councillors, including group leader Cllr Michael Jones.
Cllr Jones questioned whether the loss of the card would lead to more people abandoning public transport and using their cars, whether that conflicted with the council’s pledge to tackle climate change – and whether the savings justified the impact it would have on some older people.
During a meeting of the environment and communities scrutiny committee on Thursday (July 2), he called on cabinet member Cllr Roger Elkins to abandon his decision.
Cllr Jones accused Cllr Elkins of ignoring the results of a public consultation, which showed two-thirds of respondents were opposed to scrapping the scheme.
He added: “Of the one-fifth of respondents who replied saying they were in favour of scrapping the scheme, it was notable that very few of them were actually rail card holders.”
There were strong words from Cllr Lt Col George Barton, (Con, Sompting & North Lancing) who said the decision to scrap the scheme ‘frightened the living daylights’ out of him.
Calling the idea a farce and ‘a total nonsense’, Lt Col Barton called for the money to be found elsewhere and accused the council of finding it ‘more acceptable to punish an easy target – the retired’.
Cllr Roger Oakley (Con, Worthing East) said he had some sympathy with Cllr Jones’ argument but added: “The saving may be a small amount but anybody who has a household budget knows we must always look after our pennies.
“No matter how small the saving is it is an important saving in light of current issues and the money that’s being spent to deal with our Covid crisis.”
Most members agreed with a recommendation from chairman Cllr Andrew Barrett-Miles that the decision to cancel the rail card be supported and Cllr Jones’ call-in rejected.
The rail card will be scrapped from October and Cllr Barrett-Miles also recommended that the council better publicise it during its final few months to give eligible residents the chance to apply for one.
To apply for a rail card, log on to the county council’s website: westsussex.gov.uk
For advice, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 033 022 26222.
By Karen Dunn, local democracy reporter