PENSIONERS have been saying it, charities for the elderly have been saying it, Hampshire politicians have been saying it, and more than 6,500 Daily Echo readers have been saying it.

Now Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it too via the Queen's Speech - over-60s must have the right to free travel on buses.

Legislation announced in the Queen's Speech yesterday will ensure that, from April 2008, all pensioners will be able to travel anywhere in England for free.

The government will pump around £250m a year into the scheme, which was first announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown in his March Budget.

The Concessionary Bus Travel Bill will mean pensioners can travel free anywhere across England from 9.30am to 11pm on week days, and any time at weekends and on bank holidays.

The news is a massive boost to the Daily Echo's campaign to safeguard the current system of county-wide travel offered by most of Hampshire's local authorities.

While the announcement has no direct impact on the challenge by bus operators wanting more cash for carrying pensioners around Hampshire, it seems unlikely the government would put a new flagship scheme at risk.

The special investigation set up by the Department for Transport is yet to report back on appeals lodged by bus companies, which say their payment should reflect every trip made by pass holders.

Chris Perry, director of Age Concern Hampshire, said the legislation announced would benefit pensioners, road users and the environment, and believes it should safeguard the principles of free travel.

"I think you can claim success in your campaign, don't you?" he told the Daily Echo.

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