Teenagers lose out in bus pass mix-up

STEVE DOWNES Two thousand Norfolk teenagers will have to fork out more than they expected for bus travel after being “let down” by an embarrassing misunderstanding between Norfolk County Council and a major operator, the EDP can reveal.

STEVE DOWNES

Two thousand Norfolk teenagers will have to fork out more than they expected for bus travel after being “let down” by an embarrassing misunderstanding between Norfolk County Council and a major operator, the EDP can reveal.

The college and sixth form students were told that their bus passes had been extended from journeys to and from classes to include evenings, weekends and all holidays - thanks to a groundbreaking deal between the two organisations.

But First then said the deal did not include the six-week summer break - forcing the council to write to the 2,000 young people to tell them they would have to pay extra for the privilege throughout August.

The damage has been limited as the two organisations have negotiated a compromise deal to take them through the summer holiday.

But it still means that bus pass holders face a one-off fee of up to £53 to use First vehicles.

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Jonathan Lovatt, president of Norwich City College student union, said: “Considering the cost in the first place, I'm against students having to pay any more.

“Any increase can only hurt students more. They need to be able to get around for part-time jobs, so why should they be penalised?”

Peter Harwood, the council's Labour spokesman for children's services, said: “This is an extremely disappointing outcome as we near the long summer break. Our youngsters will naturally want to vent some of their energies as they emerge from exams and being cooped up at school. The ability to travel independently should be part of this.

“The sums are small, many feel let down. But more importantly we should encourage youngsters to be natural public transport users. We compromise on this support at our peril.”

The 2006/7 bus pass, which cost £220, was sold to youngsters and their parents before the additional deal was struck.

When the misunderstanding became apparent First asked the council for extra money to cover the summer holiday period. But the council said it could not afford the £150,000-£200,000 required.

Instead the compromise was agreed, costing £32 for zones one to five, £24 for Yarmouth and King's Lynn or £53 for the whole First network.

In a letter to parents, Niki Park, business support manager in the passenger transport unit, said: “The first that students and parents knew about this extended travel was when they had paid their money and received the pass and therefore this element was an added bonus for students who held bus passes for First - it was not something which you explicitly paid for.”

She added: “It is regrettable that the situation has occurred and we will review future processes to prevent anything like this happening again.

“However it should not be forgotten that for the first time in Norfolk students have had free unlimited journeys from Sept 06 to July 07 to give them better access to services and reduce the cost of their travel.”

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation, said: “It's the result of a genuine misunderstanding because we thought First was offering free holiday travel throughout the school holidays, including the summer.

“We admit our part in the misunderstanding, but it's important to note that there's no statutory requirement to provide travel in the holidays and students and their parents didn't know about this benefit until after they had paid their money and received their passes.”

A First spokesman said: “We regret any inconvenience caused by the errors made by a third party, which were beyond our control. However, holders of these tickets can still enjoy discounted travel with us through the summer.

“If customers return their existing ticket to us we will replace it with a child pass for the six-week duration of the summer holiday at the normal monthly price. Customers who wish to take up this offer should contact our customer service line on 08456 020 121.”

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