WEST Dorset District Council is to scrap its support for free bus travel for pensioners before 9.30am.
The authority has been providing a subsidy that has ensured those eligible for concessionary bus passes administered by Dorset County Council can travel for free before 9.30am as well.
However, its executive committee has agreed to withdraw the subsidy so West Dorset residents' passes will no longer be valid before 9.30am when they are reissued in April.
In a bid to mitigate the impact the council has agreed to make £10,000 available to support residents in accessing community transport solutions, with a particular focus on those needing to travel to medical appointments.
Director for corporate resources Adrian Stuart said the authority had been using Government funding to offer free bus travel before 9.30am but that was no longer available.
He said the council now had to decide whether to continue subsidising the scheme itself out of its own funds, which would cost an estimated £46,000 a year, or to withdraw its support.
Mr Stuart said a consultation process had revealed the biggest area of concern in relation to the potential loss of 9.30am travel was access to medical appointments.
He said it was hoped the proposed £10,000 of funding for alternative transport solutions would help ease this concern.
Council leader Robert Gould said it was important to remember those eligible for the concessionary travel scheme would still be able to enjoy free travel after 9.30am and those living in areas where the next bus was after 10.30am would still be able to ride for free before 9.30am.
He said: “When the funding is no longer coming to this authority we have to reassess where we can go.
“The key thing is to make sure what funds we do use are properly targeted on key areas.”
The move to scrap pre-9.30am concessionary travel had drawn criticism from the Dorchester Labour Party prior to the meeting, which claimed it would be a 'sad day' if it were to be removed.
After the meeting vice-chairman Barry Thompson said he hoped the £10,000 would at least go some way towards making up for the loss of the scheme.
He said: “I am disappointed but I believe the £10,000 will help as long as it goes to the right areas.”
Mr Thompson added that he still wasn't convinced that the council could not afford to continue to support the travel pass.
He said: “I don't really believe they haven't got the money.”