Free tram travel for non-Blackpool residents under threat

There is currently intense speculation regarding the future of the offer of free travel on the Blackpool tramway for all holders of the UK concessionary passes issued to senior citizens. Before the opening of the modernised tramway, this offer was extended to cover ALL UK residents eligible for the pass under a national scheme, whereas previously it had only been available to local residents. Now however, this decision is likely to be reversed as Blackpool Council strive to save money.

Although OAPs will still be allowed to use Blackpool Transport’s bus services at no cost, it is expected that the offer of free travel on the tramway will only apply to Blackpool residents from April 2014. Not only would this be a significant blow to holidaymakers, but will also affect people who live on the outskirts of town, including people based in Fleetwood who will no longer be able to use their concessionary travel pass to ride to Blackpool by tram. There is already a grave concern that this could lead to many elderly passengers and their families transferring their custom to the parallel Line 1 bus service, somewhat undermining the massive investment in the tramway made in recent years – much of which came, oddly, from Blackpool Council! This could also negatively impact on other bus routes, as a major increase in passenger numbers on the Line 1 buses may pressure BTS to increase this service, at a time when cutbacks are being made in all departments across the company. However on the flip side of the coin, if the buses used on the promenade service cannot cope with the demand, there is the risk that a rival company may jump in to fill the void and take away passengers from Blackpool Transport.

A petition has already been launched to try and put pressure onto Blackpool Council to keep accepting the passes on trams. At present, the Council must pay Blackpool Transport a percentage of the normal fare for every passenger who travels free of charge, and it has been estimated that the suggested changes could save the Council a hefty £700,000. However, Fleetwood folk are understandably unhappy, having suffered considerable disruption whilst the tramway was upgraded, and many now feel that this will not have been worthwhile if the concessionary travel is axed. Fleetwood Councillor Dave Shaw described the proposal as “an insult” to the people who suffered most when sections of the line were closed in 2010 and 2011. The fact that people who live a few miles away will still travel free is also likely be a bugbear, although some Blackpool residents have already argued that they do not feel that their taxes should be spent on free tram rides for non-residents.

It remains to be seen what final decision is taken on this controversial topic, although whatever happens Blackpool Council are almost certain to attract a large amount of criticism. It is also worth noting that the Council reportedly wasted a six figure sum of money on last year’s illumination switch-on event, which was very poorly attended and resulted in what has been claimed to be the quietest switch-on weekend in decades. The one possible silver lining, is that Lancashire County Council have expressed willingness to review their stance on the matter if changes are implemented, and could potentially restore free travel for senior citizens of Fleetwood. Hopefully whatever happens, the upgraded Blackpool tram system will not be too badly affected, after being one of the major success stories in the transport world over the last couple of years.

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26 Responses to Free tram travel for non-Blackpool residents under threat

  1. proutledge says:

    Hi – surely it would be best left as it is BUT if not, then perhaps the concessionary arrangement should cover the county itself. It seems ridiculous having a parallel bus service – more could be saved by removing it or trimming it back and the saving would offset the theoretical loss. It is totally unfair to impose this along any section of the line for locals. Also, if funding for the tramway was made nationally, then there could be an argument that it is a shared national asset. Only the ideas of a southerner! Paul

  2. roger woodhead says:

    Lancashire County Council, residents of Fleetwood only! As a resident who pays my Council Tax to LCC I would point out that all Council Tax and Business Rate Payers in Lancashire have paid towards the modernisation of the Blackpool Tramway not just the residents of Fleetwood. If BTS do not negotiate an arrangement for ALL Lancashire Residents then I suggest that LCC asks for its money back. Not a line I would like to see happen but payup or shutup BTS.

    • Christopher Callan says:

      Your understanding of the NOW Card concessionary system is flawed.

      Nothing to do with Blackpool Transport Services “paying up”. Their the arms length company who receives payment from the council per now car use. If Blackpool Council are no longer prepared to do this what do you expect them to do…

      Saying that. When will people realise that if you have a parallel service the saving simply cannot be made. Whilst a bus service operates the prom route their is simply no point other than cheap political gain from cutting it. Its cheaper to run the trams full than have half on buses half on trams.

      • Ken Walker says:

        There certainly won’t be any need for the widened balloons if Blackpool council go ahead with this.

      • roger woodhead says:

        I was not referring to the NOW card system but to LCC spending a largish sum of Council Taxpayers money from throughout Lancashire on the system upgrade and then negotiating for one very small group to have Now card access to the system. I live in Lancashire and my local MP has been inundated with complaints about this matter and it may blow up into a major political storm. I hope it doesn’t as the main loser would be the Tramway.

  3. tram man says:

    The only comparison I can come up with,is that it would be the same as Metrolink not allowing pensioners to use their passes on the trams.In fact how do metrolink claim back all those concessionary fares back?Its not like stagecoach buses where they have to scan their pass when boarding.

    You could argue that during the summer and the illuminations that a lot of people outside of the county use their passes on Blackpool trams.But there again the same applies to Metrolink.

    • roger woodhead says:

      I guess Metrolink claim their money back by basically mathematical guesswork as they have no means of knowing how many bus pass holders use the trams or where their journies start and end!

  4. Peter Watts says:

    Maybe the EU legislation could be used for once to keep something, as normally there cannot be discrimination by place of residency. This is the EU law which was used in Malta to remove the low cost travel for Malta residents; either everyone or no-one!

  5. Philip Higgs says:

    Readers need to be aware of both historical baggage here and statutory legislation and my understanding, having worked on concessionary fare schemes is that:

    1. When Free Concessions were introduced for local bus travel (in 2008 I think) Blackpool Council were still seeking funds from the Government to support the full renewal of the tramway. At this time Wyre Borough were responsible for funding all journeys that started “in their patch” and they did not have the budget to support this. Tramways fall outside the formula through the Rate Support Grant that central government pay local authorities for LOCAL BUS TRAVEL. Therefore, the money received by Wyre was based on the number of over 60s residents. Seaside resorts were awarded additional funds based on a formula that included hotel beds etc as a proxy for tourism visits but Wyre hardly benefitted from this with very few hotels in the Borough.
    2. Because Blackpool Council’s bid for funds did not stack-up without transfer of passengers (including concessions) from bus to tram, Blackpool Council brokered a deal with Wyre Borough that Wyre’s contribution to the cost of concessionary travel would be capped and any excess Blackpool Council would pay.
    3. From 2011, the responsibility for providing & paying for local bus travel passed from local authorities to either County Councils (LCC in this case) or Unitary Authorities. In fact, LCC handle the whole scheme under contract from unitary authorities Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen. But if a pensioner boards a Bus/Tram in Blackpool area, Blackpool Council pays and if they board in Cleveleys for example, Lancashire County Council pays…
    4. But, I understand BLACKPOOL COUNCIL is still funding the additional cost of pensioners boarding trams in Wyre Borough as well as the pensioners boarding the trams in Blackpool Borough. This has not been widely reported but in view of severe budget costs and job losses at the Council I suspect it will…
    5. The upshot of this is apparently that Blackpool Council only has so much money to allocate to concessionary travel and once the mandatory payments are made to bus operators for local bus travel, BLACKPOOL TRANSPORT receives only what is left for the tramway journeys. The result is that Blackpool Transport is being short-changed – although in reality it is all Council money anyway but the great success of the new tramway means that the amount Blackpool is having to pay for journeys boarding in Wyre has increased significantly beyond the cost envisaged – and it gets no money from central Government towards this.
    6. The only exit route for Blackpool Council to get out of the arrangement is to scrap free concessions on the trams, even if it allowed its own residents to still travel free.
    7. The result of this will inevitably be that tram passenger numbers may decline (with some journeys transferring to No.1 bus) but at least Blackpool Council will no longer be expected to fund pensioners boarding the trams in Wyre area. If they transfer to bus then Lancashire County Council will have to pay for journeys starting in Wyre – and this will benefit Blackpool Transport. Blackpool Council will save money, but not nearly as much as they would like to – many pensioners will transfer to bus but, that said, I’m sure many visitors will happily pay to still travel on the trams, particularly if a simple flat fare rather than full fare was charged. I’m sure that the outcome though will not be that simple and that if they do scrap free concessions on the trams there will be a few unintended consequences!!

    Hope this makes sense!

  6. Ian says:

    Reference to UK should surely be to England as the four home nations each have their own bus pass scheme. As regards the NOW Pass, I understand that covers Lancashire, Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool. If that was used as the basis for concessions on the trams then the resident / visitor distinction could mean Colne / Keighley for example! The Government were supposed to have addressed the disadvantage faced by tourist centres like York (where I live) and Blackpool but, as we all know, the total pot of money that is made available to councils for travel concessions isn’t very big.
    I agree that it would be pointless and wasteful to have to reinforce the No. 1 bus service whilst there was space on the trams due to concession holders changing mode.

  7. Ian says:

    Manchester Metrolink only offer concessions to Greater Manchester residents. That could be considered unfair if the advent of trams led to a reduction in parallel bus services but not as unfair as the absence of services – free or to be paid for – for many rural residents for whom the Bus Pass is a bit of a joke.

  8. Philip Higgs says:

    The irony is that predominantly rural County Council areas tend to have higher % of pensioners and the Concessionary element of the Rate Support Grant can “overpay” these areas compared to more urban areas, where the availability of a bus to actually ride on is much higher. In rural areas bus services are being cut so there are fewer services to ride upon – saving costs of supported services and the reimbursement of bus operators for free concession journeys. If you wanted to save costs this is a win win for some Council’s budgets – since the Rate Support Grant does not take into account the availability of bus services to ride upon, only the numbers of eligible residents living in Council areas. That said, the funding allocation is being cut each year under the current economic climate.
    Back to Blackpool’s trams – we have to remember that Blackpool draws a lot of tourists from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of whom are not entitled to free travel on the trams and seem to quite happily pay for tram travel, often purchasing the 3 & 7 day travel tickets. It is only the English passholders who are at risk of converting from tram to bus to avoid having to pay.

  9. Thomas Ellison says:

    Does this mean that people who live in Cleveleys and come under the Wyre borough council will also be unable to use their pass?

  10. BROCKLEHURST says:

    Blackpool transport will have no alternative but to restore the use of NOW passes to tram uses because of several uneconomical reasons.
    1 They are discriminating against the disabled who want a single journey into Blackpool and not have to chang buses, therefor the concil could find themselves in a legal tangle.
    2. Onec Blackpool WOW card holders crosss the boundary into Wyre, they are not subsidised and should have to pay the extra fare .
    I suggest to bring this to a head a Temporary swing barrier is installed at the anchorholme tram stop and the barrier only raised to allow trams to go to Fleetwooed when all passengers have paid their extra fares.

    I expect the Blackpool council would back down with 24 hours.

  11. Alan Percy says:

    Blackpool’s decision to charge holders of National Bus Passes from other towns will impact on usage of the trams and the main losers will be Fleetwood and their tourist trade. While Fleetwood is not that attractive a destination it is on the list for holidaymakers in Blackpool. To have to get a bus when there is a half empty tram going the same destination is barmy. The National Bus Pass scheme is a great idea and reduces car travel and congestion in our towns, it also encourages us oldies to spend money in our town centres helping to keep them alive.

  12. brian outram says:

    I have been coming to blackpool for7o yearsim disgusted in the people who have stopped freetravel passes

    • Paul D says:

      The reality is that all that has happened is a return to the situation that existed from the mid 1990s to 2011!

      It is ironic that so many seem to forget that they have only had the free travel provision for two years out of the last twenty (or perhaps a sign of their increasing age?!?) and complain about its withdrawal with ridiculous statements about never visiting again and it being the end of the tramway as though it is a privilege they always had. Did these people never visit or ride the trams before 2012?

  13. George says:

    You can still come to Manchester and use our trams with your bus pass, guess what we used to spend over £600 week in Blackpool but we won’t be coming back Councilors Scrooge

    • Ken Walker says:

      Don’t shout too loudly George or somebody at TfGM might start getting ideas!

    • freel07 says:

      That isn’t quite true. I quote the Metrolink Website.

      ‘Older people who reside in the Greater Manchester area and hold a current concessionary travel permit (commonly known as a bus pass) issued by Transport for Greater Manchester can travel free after 0930 Monday to Friday and all day at weekends and on Bank Holidays, for travel before 09.30hrs an adult single ticket should be purchased.’

      Only bus passes issued by TfGM entitle holders to free travel.

      • George says:

        Check it again ring them up , I also use my bus pass to travel on trams in Sheffield

        • Ken Walker says:

          Sheffield accepts the passes but Metrolink doesn’t, George. But as for these passes being ‘free’, not only have we paid all our working lives for the passes of others, but as people who pay income tax on our pensions and pay council tax we are still paying for our own passes now!

    • Paul D says:

      George, did you never visit Blackpool before 2012? If so you had to pay on the trams then, so why is having to pay now such a major thing that it will stop you visiting completely? A 7 day travelcard costs less than £15 each. That’s just 2.5% of your stated £600 weekly spend. Is that such a fundamental difference that you would cancel your trip for such a trivial proportion of your stated budget for the week??

      • George says:

        We used to send kids down the mine we stopped that we had a vote for a government in the past to recognise our elders and they set up the system, the Tories then started to dismantle the system ,currently working on The NHS if you live in the north west you can see the degeneration and collapse of the welfare state. What was set up was paid for my people like me, best bet withdraw the benefits and give me a refund, been paying, still paying since 1965

  14. Gareth Prior says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments on this story but I think we have now done this subject to death with the same old arguments coming up time after time. As a result no further comments will be approved on this story.

Comments are closed.