ELDERLY Hampshire residents with free bus passes may have to pay 50p every time they travel, under new plans being floated by the county council.

Civic chiefs say, if a charge was introduced, it would help fund future public bus services.

The council also estimates that a fee for holders of the Older Person’s Bus Pass would bring in £4.7 million per year.

However, the authority admitted that a change in national policy would be needed to bring in the charge.

Nevertheless, leader Roy Perry said the authority has “no current plans to introduce” the fee, despite adding that he hoped the council will be granted a chance to pilot the idea by Westminster.

Now residents have just a day left to take part in the consultation, which ends tomorrow (Sunday, August 5).

The idea has been criticised by residents and local groups, who have said they were already causing distress among many pensioners.

But council leader Roy Perry said that, based on the consultation comments so far, “it is clear many respondents would be prepared to pay a little to keep the bus services”.

He said: “We do need to make savings in our revenue budget, and all areas of expenditure have been reviewed, including support for public transport.

“A 50p charge would equate to 25 per cent of the average cost of each journey, meaning that council tax payers would still pay 75 per cent of the cost of each journey made using the older persons pass.

“Should this happen, it could generate an annual income of up to £4.7 million – enough to cover the cost of all current bus subsidies and community transport, therefore enabling us to maintain current transport provision.

“As a local authority, our priority is to ensure that our resources are directed to where they are most needed – in consulting on possible changes to the current arrangements for supporting public transport, we will be guided by Hampshire residents to find the fairest and most sensible ways of using the limited funds available to us.”

Romsey opposition Lib Dem councillor Mark Cooper said: “Bus passes should remain free for all pensioners on a low income.

“But to be fair to Hampshire County Council, there is no ability to charge for bus passes in current legislation.

“This is an opinion gathering exercise and if there is support for a flat 50 pence fare, which I doubt, then it would be used as evidence to press the government to change the legislation.”

As reported, county pensioners said they would be “left isolated” if plans were approved.

Devan Kandiah, chairman of Age Concern Eastleigh, said the proposals were already causing distress among many pensioners, which, he added, could lead to illness and depression.

“I understand the council has to balance the books but it should look at other ways to do it,” he said.

However, the county’s transport boss Councillor Rob Humby admitted that the authority needed to tighten its belt, and the charge is “a sensible solution for the longer term”.

“The county council is not alone nationally in looking to reduce bus subsidy spending in order to respond to budget pressures, but we would wish to do so in ways which would ensure our resources are directed where they are most needed,” he said.

“Through the consultation we want to explore a range of options with residents to further understand the views of local people, and I will wish to consider this feedback when I review the final recommendations made on this subject later in the year.’

Speaking when the proposals were announced last November, Dorothy Baverstock, chairman of Test Valley Community Services, said: “I feel the majority of people could afford to pay 50p. I have a friend who goes all over the county with her bus pass. She would be more than happy to pay – it keeps public transport going.”

The controversial plans also include the removal of pass holders’ free travel on Taxishare, Dial-a-Ride and Call and Go services – which receive funding from the authority.

Under the new rules, elderly users would need to subsidised fare of £2.50 or £3.50 per single journey.

This could save the council £240,000 a year, it claims.

To take part in the consultation, visit: www.hants.gov.uk/aboutthecouncil/haveyoursay