Free bus passes are costing taxpayers nearly £30 million a year – and the bill is set to continue to rise.

Despite all public budgets being squeezed, local authorities across Sussex are forced by national law to pay for millions of journeys on public transport in their areas.

But with the cost continuing to rise due to fuel costs and an increasingly older population, some have suggested that changes to the concessionary bus fare scheme are needed.

Yet Government ministers have said there are no plans to alter the current system until at least 2015, despite austerity biting hard.

The scheme was launched in its current form in 2008, and allows free bus travel for retired or disabled people.

In Brighton and Hove alone there are more than ten million journeys by people entitled to free bus passes.

This is forecast to cost the local authority £9.8 million in the current financial year – up from £9.6 million in 2011/12.

East Sussex County Council is on course to spend £7.7 million in 2012/13, up from £7.4million in 2011/12.

West Sussex County Council has allocated £10.5 million for this year, an increase of three per cent on £10.2 million in 2011/12.

Worthing West MP Peter Bottomley said he was worried about the cost of bureaucracy in limiting bus passes to pensioners.

Fixed deals

He added: “This is not something that we introduced; it’s something we inherited from the previous Government.

“It’s very hard to take away something that people have got used to.

“But we could say that future generations have to be older before they are entitled to it.”

A city council spokeswoman said it had negotiated fixed deals with both the main bus operators in the city - Brighton and Hove Buses and Stagecoach South - which covered more than 98 per cent of the total cost for the period up to March 31, 2014.

She added: “Free bus travel remains extremely popular with eligible residents and Brighton and Hove is an extremely popular destination for eligible residents in neighbouring areas.

Ticket prices

“The number of concessionary journeys therefore continues to rise and costs are increasing, particularly due to fuel prices, so reimbursement costs will continue to rise unless the law is changed.

“With the current fixed deals in place, a reduction in the number of journeys will not reduce cost.”

A West Sussex spokesman said: “Generally bus ticket prices have gone up four to five per cent across the county, which means that costs associated with the scheme are rising more slowly than general fares.

“The overwhelming majority of the 24 million bus journeys made in West Sussex have always been made on commercially viable routes, and are not funded by the county council.”

Who is eligible?

Eligible older and disabled people can apply for a bus pass to get free off-peak travel on local bus services across England.

It applies to those aged 60 on or before April 5, 2010, and of ‘pensionable age’ from April 6, 2010.

'Off-peak' is between 9.30am and 11pm Monday to Friday and all day at weekends and on public holidays.

However, Brighton and Hove City Council provides £50,000 a year to which supports free travel between 9am and 9.30am and 11pm and 4am.

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