COUNCILLORS have been accused of becoming ‘Big Brother’ by wanting to know why older people use buses in early mornings.
A row erupted in the council chamber during a discussion of Redditch Borough’s policy of allowing over 65s to travel on the buses for free before 9.30am.
Coun Greg Chance, whose responsibilities on the council include public transport, was called before the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to answer a number of questions about how the scheme – which saw 146,924 journeys taken in 2013/14 and a further 65,653 between April and the end of September this year – was going two years in, including ‘why do retired people need to travel before 9.30am?’
He said it was ‘barmy and patronising’ to ask the question and older residents needed to travel for the same reasons as others including medical appointments.
“The whole reason for introducing the scheme was recognising that need for people to travel before 9.30am. Unless of course you are worried people are just using it to benefit themselves – I would hope when I get to that age myself I would have far more exciting things I’d want to do than use the bus for no reason.
“Next you’ll be saying older people will be growing their hair deliberately so they can get cheaper haircuts and so on.”
Coun Mike Braley said he felt older people would not want to get up early for medical appointments as it took ‘longer to get ready’. The councillor, who said he had only ever used a bus once to ‘see what it was like’ said the council should not just be throwing money at the problem without worrying whether they were getting good value for money at all.
“We are not paying as much as we might pay but that still doesn’t mean we’re getting value for money. With older people most of them having the money to get to things, we need to look at youths instead. We are obsessed with spending our children’s inheritance.
“We need to know why people want this and we don’t have that information and don’t seem to think that matters and we don’t know for example if people may not be able to get to work if we have people riding the bus for no good reason.
Coun Joe Baker said: “I must have been asleep when the council became Big Brother and wanted to know what people did with their time. It is irrelevant as long as the service is there and people are using it and not abusing it that’s what matters.”
A recommendation was passed to ask for information from Centro, which facilities the scheme, for the data around how many passengers are taking advantage of the concessionary scheme, although they were advised by Stephen Haselden, strategic development manager at Rotala Plc which runs Diamond, he had been told it was illegal for him to obtain the data therefore it was unlikely the council would be able to access it.