Free travel for more than a million North West pensioners and eligible disabled

More than one million people across the North West can travel wherever they want for free on local buses from today.

Almost 1.2million bus pass holders in the region will be able to take advantage as the new England-wide concession comes into effect.

This expansion of the previous local scheme entitles anyone aged 60 or over, as well as eligible disabled people, to use their free bus pass across England during the off-peak period.

Marking the launch of the new bus pass, Transport Minister Rosie Winterton said:

"For many older or disabled people the bus can be a lifeline - providing access to employment, healthcare and other essential services, as well as allowing them to visit family and friends.

"That is why we have been working hard to deliver an increasingly better deal. The extension of the free bus pass scheme means no older or disabled person in England need be prevented from bus travel by cost alone, and I am pleased that we have been able to deliver this major benefit."

Lancashire-based Gordon Lishman, the Director General at Age Concern, added:

"Free bus travel is very popular with older people and can really help to improve their quality of life. Without these concessions, many older people on a low income would struggle to get to their local shops, banks or hospital, or visit family and friends - which may leave them feeling isolated and cut off from society. Having the means to travel independently is incredibly important to older people."

An extra £212 million has been allocated solely to fund the change, ensuring that in total around £1 billion a year will be invested by the Government in the provision of free bus travel.

When free local travel was introduced in 2006 one of the key pieces of feedback was that people were frustrated by being constrained to only travel in a local authority's area. The new concession removes the barrier of council boundaries enabling people to visit family, friends, shops or doctors' surgeries even in they are in a neighbouring authority.

Nationally, funding of £212m. £217m and £223m will be provided over the next three years to help local authorities cover any extra costs. The grants have bee based on a formula covering areas such as eligible local population to visitor numbers. This means that the North West will get an extra £28.468m, an increase in 23 per cent over what was spent in the last financial year and enough to pay for more than 28 million additional bus trips. This money is on top of the extra £350m given to local authorities following the move from free half-fare to free local travel in 2006. An extra £31m has also been given to local authorities for the cost of issuing new smart card travel passes.