Blind bus travellers’ Norfolk County Council appeal

Blind people who use the bus to get to work are to appear before county councillors to present evidence they have been hard hit by a decision to cut the hours when free bus passes can be used.

As Norfolk County Council continues its Fair Fares campaign to convince the government to provide more cash to cover the cost of reimbursing bus operators for travel by bus pass holders, members of the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind (NNAB) will demonstrate how cuts already made by County Hall have affected them.

The council currently gets �7.2m from the government to pay for concessionary bus travel, but the cost of paying back the bus operators is more than �11m. With that funding gap, the council had already taken away a discretionary hour in the mornings when bus pass holders could travel from 8.30am.

Since April, pass holders have only been allowed free bus travel between 9.30am and 11pm in the week and all day at weekends and public holidays.

However, the NNAB argue that taking away that extra hour, which had been provided by the district councils before the county council took on responsibility for the administration of bus fares, has had a particular impact on its members who rely on buses to get to work.

NNAB equipment adviser Chris Maule-Oatway, who is blind, will be appearing before the committee on November 29.

He said the charity estimated there were no more than 50 registered blind people in Norfolk who used the bus to get to work, so restoring the concessionary scheme for them would cost only about �3,000 a year.

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He added: 'These people do not have the option sighted people have of driving, cycling or walking to work, they have to use the bus. They are people determined to maintain their independence and dignity, and not rely on the state. Yet they are being hit hard in the pocket to do so.'

He said the NNAB supported the council's Fair Fares campaign, lobbying the government for more cash, but said blind people could be made a special case now, irrespective of the wider campaign's outcome.

In September, county council leader Derrick Murphy and Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation, took a bus trip while wearing special goggles to replicate the experience of a blind person.

The initiative was organised by Action for Blind People and the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Mr Plant said the council was still trying to get the government to plug the funding gap to provide the statutory minimum for bus pass holders, but would be interested to hear what the charity has to say at the cabinet scrutiny meeting.

The council's Fair Fares e-petition, which has more than 14,000 signatures, can be signed via the front page of the council's website at www.norfolk.gov.uk, at libraries or at Norwich and King's Lynn bus stations.

dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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