Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Picking on Pensioners

Pensioners in Jersey may lose their free bus passes. The scheme that entitles 60-year-old women and 65-five year old men to travel free of charge on the island's buses could be scrapped. Confidential discussions about the scheme have been taking place at ministerial level. But Jersey politician, Senator Ben Shenton says to deny old age pensioners the right to free travel would be a mistake. The Chair of Age Concern Daphnie Minihane says it's vital that the island's old age pensioners have access to a free bus pass to get around the island. She says if that privilege was revoked it would be yet another attack on the island's elderly (1)

This is the new way to get around the promise not to raise taxes - to cut back on free or subsidised services instead. The next step is to bring in more "user pays" stealth taxes - although, of course, they will not be called taxes! It is another burden on the retired population, which - in a year in which the credit crunch bites, not least with rising electricity costs - can be seen as a cheap way of making savings at the expense of a part of the population whose protests can be safely ignored - easy targets for cutbacks.

For some people - and I know a pensioner who fits this category - driving is not an option, and although they own their own house (and are thereby not eligible for income support), there are repairs, rates, rising costs to meet out of their income - their pension-  and not their capital which is tied up in bricks and mortar. In this case, this proposal is just the same as a reduction in pensions.

My mother is a pensioner who has a car which she uses for shopping trips to the supermarket in St Brelade. If she is going in to St Helier, most often she will take the bus - as will her husband who does not drive - because it is a free service for pensioners. I suspect their case is fairly typical.

But there is also an environmental aspect to this. Because they take the bus much more, this means less traffic on the road, less pollution in the atmosphere, less wear and tear on the roads. It is the eco-friendly option. Do we really want to drive people away from buses and back to cars?

There will probably be proposals to allow bus passes if they are means tested, and to understand the indignity to the elderly (and the cumbersome apparatus) of form filling and means testing, I have my own proposal: I think States remuneration should also be means tested, which will still mean "no one will be disadvantaged if they cannot afford it", but will save the taxpayer money if they can!


st-ouennais said...

Good piece Tony,
This ws my comment on a local forum.

Seriously, this is one of the most retrograde, unnecessary and downright bizarre proposals I have seen in some time. There might be an argument for saying OAP bus passes would not be valid at certain peak hours because demand could not be met. But in reality many of those who use the passes do so off peak hours, the bus is not full. Unless the hidden idea behind this proposal is to cut the bus service, the withdrawal of passes won't material affect anything much. The buses still run , just with fewer passangers. The fuel saving would be minimal, the impacts on those deprived of the service severe.

Many analysts believe we have used half the world's oil supplies and reserves are depleting at 3% per year. Add to that extra demand from increased per capita consumption levels and population levels round the world, and we have a problem. Compound that with the impacts of CO2 emissions and public transport wins out as a far superior form of transport to the private car. We must be promoting the use of the buses in the interests of the opportunities and viability of the planet for our children.

Perhaps when factoring in the subsidy for running the buses we could have some figures of the costs of not promoting them. For starters there's not having to have all the car parking places on the esplanade besides the pointlessly sunken road. The interest on money not spent there and on an oversized incinerator would keep a decent bus service running for free by my (unreliable!) estimates.

So there we have it; the central dilemma of decision making in Jersey. Do we look after the interests of the elderly and the future of the young, or do we bow to the 'tyranny of the majority' giving in to the insatiable immediate day to day expectation the consumer class?

Here's a hint on answering that. We were all young one, no choice, we will likelly all hope to be old one day; we have the chance to make a conscious and informed decision about our lives between those two.

Anonymous said...

I think now Richardson is in charge of "saving money" there will be more of this. ironic seeing as how TTS and its predecessors have always been the most wasteful department in the Island
The man is a ruthless operator-look at the way he's stitched up Black