12. What assessment he has made of bus fare rises in non-metropolitan areas; and if he will make a statement. (137504)
The Government recognises that the price of public transport is an issue for many people, including those in non-metropolitan areas, and we are putting measures in place to keep down the cost of using the bus, including retaining the bus service operators grant and the concessionary travel entitlement, and encouraging more reasonably priced multi-operator tickets.
Following cuts imposed by this Government, Mayor Mallon in Middlesbrough is proposing to axe the teen mover scheme that helps young people afford public transport, and Redcar and Cleveland borough council has already had to scale back its similar scheme. As a result, coupled with bus fare increases, young people risk being plunged into transport poverty. Will the Minister hold discussions with his colleagues at the Departments for Education and for Communities and Local Government to ensure that young people in Middlesbrough and east Cleveland can afford to travel by public transport?
The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the issue of young people and buses, and I have given considerable attention to it. I have had discussions with the industry, and there is a new website giving young people more information about bus fares and the best offers in their area. We are discussing what further steps we might take to help young people, and, indeed, I have met colleagues at the Department for Education to discuss this very issue.
Does my hon. Friend agree that community transport and concessionary fares are particularly important in rural areas? Will he therefore consider a further roll-out of the wheels to work scheme in rural areas such as Thirsk, Malton and Filey?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and I agree with her point. We have given two tranches of £10 million to aid community transport across England. We have also funded wheels to work schemes under the local sustainable transport fund, and will continue to do so.
The Government’s own figures show bus fares rising by double the rate of inflation, and many passengers face even higher increases; the Arriva Midlands annual saver ticket has increased by 20% this year. When will the Minister accept that his Government’s decision to cut local transport funding by 28% and to cut direct support for bus services by a fifth has increased the financial pressure on households who are already struggling to make ends meet?
I welcome the hon. Lady to the Front Bench. She may not be aware that this is not a new phenomenon. In 2009, the retail prices index fell by 0.4% and bus fares increased by 8.6%—far more than they have risen this year. Steps are being taken to cut bus fares, and the hon. Lady may be interested to know that fares are being cut by First Bus in both Sheffield and Manchester.