THE ISLAND has seen the biggest increase in bus use in England over the past six months and some routes are creaking under the strain.
Free rides now make up just under half of all journeys made on Southern Vectis buses following the introduction of the government’s concessionary bus fares scheme this year.
However, council tax payers may have to pick up a £3.7 million tab to pay for the scheme because of government underfunding, according to Isle of Wight Council transport bosses.
The figures were revealed at a meeting of the Island’s Bus Users’ Group at the Methodist Hall in Quay Street, Newport.
During the first year of the Isle of Wight Council’s own free fares for pensioners scheme between 2006 and 2007, there were 2.1 million journeys made.
However, the total number of journeys expected to be taken between April 2008 and March next year following the introduction of the government’s own scheme is set to soar to around 3.8 million.
The cost to council coffers to operate the new scheme will run to around £5.5 million, according to the Isle of Wight Council’s transport manager, Andy Morris.
The council currently receives £1.8 million from the government to operate the scheme, leaving a deficit of £3.7 million to be found from the council tax payer.
Mr Morris said: “We have no choice but to pay for concessions. If the council has to pay, we should be fully funded. This is an issue faced by many other local authorities.”
Southern Vectis operations manager Marc Morgan Huws said buses had been “innundated” on popular routes such as Sandown Bay because of the increased number of passengers.
He said: “We have been incredibly busy. We have had an awful lot of people travelling on the network.”
Isle of Wight Council cabinet member for transport Cllr Tim Hunter Henderson said: “The scheme is grossly underfunded.”