SOUTHAMPTON pensioner campaigners last night hit back at calls to scrap OAPs’ free bus passes.

“The use of the free bus pass is a necessity,” is the response from the secretary of the Southampton Pensioners’ Forum to those people who felt that the concessionary bus scheme should be scrapped.

Don Harper’s comments came just 24 hours before the latest round of concessionary bus fares are about to be rubber-stamped by civic bosses in Southampton. On Saturday the Daily Echo revealed that some readers believe the scheme is to blame for operators being forced to axe loss-making services.

They also said it was unfair on feepaying customers such as those who are too young to afford any other form of travel but have to get to work.

Some called for wealthy elderly residents to have their bus passes taken away from them.

Southampton’s City Council is expected to approve £4.9m to cover the losses made by bus operators tomorrow.

Last week Hampshire transport bosses gave the go-ahead to a £13m subsidy.

Mr Harper said that for many people the bus pass is a lifeline and he added that there were only 40,000 pensioners paying 40 per cent tax.

“There are three million pensioners in this country living under the poverty line. The use of the free bus pass is a necessity otherwise you’re going to get people that are not able to get out.

“These people have got to remember that they’re going to be old.”

Over-60s are allowed to travel for free between at least 9.30am and 11pm on Mondays to Fridays, and during extended hours on weekends and bank holidays.

In Southampton, the expected £4.9m concessionary travel bill next year comes from reimbursing bus companies 48 per cent of all fees, as well as an additional flat charge for each journey started within the city boundary.

Much of the cash comes from government grants, but local authorities have to pick up additional costs if there is a higher-than-expected uptake, or the hours bus passes can be used are extended, as they are in Hampshire.

Government ministers have admitted bus passes for all could be axed in future after Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith described them, along with free TV licences, as “anomalies” of the benefits system, and said they should be up for debate in future.