Bus Passes are no longer valid before 9:30am despite commitments made 18 months ago.
Travelling by bus is a lifeline for many people with disabilities. The Disabled Persons Bus Pass and, where needed, the Companion Pass provide invaluable free bus travel for disabled people needing to get to the shops, to the doctors or to work. Earlier this month, Kent County Council stopped disabled persons from using their passes before 9:30am.
Historically, these passes were only valid for use outside peak times, ie. after 9:30 in the morning. Disabled people needing to start work before then or to attend an early hospital appointment have therefore been forced into more expensive forms of travel.
At a Kent County Council meeting in September 2019, Liberal Democrat councillors proposed that the peak hours restriction for Disabled Persons Bus Passes be lifted with effect from April 2020. This was unanimously supported by members of the Council and the news was welcomed by Kent's disabled community.
In March 2020 the County Council issued a press release announcing that both Older Persons and Disabled Persons Bus Passes could be used before 9.30am. There was no indication in this press release that this was a temporary measure. However, in July KCC announced that the use of the bus passes before 9:30 would be withdrawn at the end of August in anticipation of children needing to travel by bus to school.
From 18th January older persons and disabled people were again allowed to use their passes before 9:30am. But this facility was yet again withdrawn on 8th March with no announcement from KCC.
Rob Bird, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at KCC commented, "Back in September 2019 when the Council agreed to make the Disabled Persons Bus Passes available before 9:30am, no-one could have anticipated that our world would have been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. No-one could have anticipated the massive impact on our bus services.
"The pandemic and the lockdowns have been particularly challenging for many people with disabilities. They have needed help in the past, and they will need more help in the future so they can enjoy as normal a life as possible.
"I recognise the challenge of getting people travelling in safety on our buses. But it's not acceptable for KCC to keep pushing people with disabilities to the back of the queue.
"KCC's Tory Administration needs to ensure that the promise made to disabled people 18 months ago is kept, now and for good."
Kent County Council resolution - 12th September 2019
"This Council requests that the Head of Public Transport enter into negotiations with the bus operating companies with a view to removing the peak time restrictions under the terms and conditions of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) for both the Disabled Person's Bus Pass and Disabled Person + Companion Pass in Kent. The Council supports removing restrictions on disabled travel and asks the Cabinet Member to put the necessary measures in place with effect from April 2020, subject to approval of the necessary budget implications at the County Council meeting in February and satisfactory outcomes from negotiations with bus operating companies."