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Free trams set for axe

Pensioners living outside Blackpool will have to pay to use the trams

Pensioners living outside Blackpool will have to pay to use the trams

A desperate plea to keep free tram travel for Fleetwood pensioners has fallen on deaf ears.

Despite a petition launched in the port calling for a U-turn on plans to scrap free travel for NowCard holders outside Blackpool, the controversial changes will come into force from April 1.

County Hall bosses say budget cuts mean they cannot afford to step in and fund reduced fares for Lancashire’s pensioners after Blackpool Council 
announced it was pulling its support to anyone outside the resort.

Town council chairman Alan Marsh was due to meet transport bosses today to discuss ways to make sure elderly passengers are not hit too hard by the changes.

He said: “I have sympathy with NowCard holders and I have sympathy with Blackpool Council.

“But fighting this is a total lost cause – to ask Blackpool Council to foot the cost is something it cannot contemplate any longer.

“But Blackpool Transport will have to look at a revision to the bus schedules.

“We have to make sure the buses are available when people want them.”

The concessionary NowCards will continue to grant holders free travel on the county’s buses but the councils have no legal requirement to offer free tram services.

But Coun Marsh said he was hopeful of striking a deal to make sure the most vulnerable, at least, do not lose out.

He added: “What I would be looking to do is to propose getting concession for the disabled and the unemployed.

“We are not going to get it all back for nothing so let’s see what we can get.”

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: “I don’t see the longer term logic of Blackpool’s potential decision. One reason why the decision was taken to extend the concessionary fare scheme to the trams was that it had been leading to over-crowding on the Number 1 bus route.

“It seems to be a case of cutting off our nose to spite our face if one unintended consequence is that fewer shoppers come into Blackpool at a time when we desperately need them.

“The decision brings into question the viability of the trams and the justification of the Government’s original investment, which was designed to facilitate travel along the entire Fylde Coast.”

Blackpool Council announced last month it would no longer fund free travel for non-Blackpool residents in a bid to cut costs. Previously, any NowCard-holder in England could use the trams free of charge.

The council said Lancashire County Council could choose to put up the money to keep free tram travel for its pensioners – however, this goes beyond the support the authority is legally required to provide.

Critics say the move is unfair to Wyre residents who had to endure months of disruption when the new lines were laid down.

Great-grandfather Trevor Schofield, 75, of Clegg Avenue, Cleveleys, said the move will be a blow for those who cannot afford to pay for a ticket.

He said: “I use the trams when I want to go into Blackpool or Fleetwood. I don’t think it this is fair at all.

“I would have liked to have seen some consultation with groups like Age Concern because it has been brought out too quickly and doesn’t give much time for discussion.”

Coun John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “The size of the cuts being imposed by the government is unprecedented and all councils are faced with difficult decisions to balance their budgets.

“Lancashire County Council contributed £36,000 towards funding free travel on Blackpool’s trams for NoWcard holders but the majority of the cost was borne by Blackpool and there’s no way we could afford to make up the difference.

“We will of course continue to fund the mandatory scheme to allow free travel on the buses for NowCard holders, who will be able to use the very regular service between Fleetwood and Blackpool as an alternative to the tram.”

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