Norfolk County Council has launched a campaign backed by councillors, businesses and MPs to persuade the Government to fairly fund the concessionary bus scheme in Norfolk.
The County Council has identified a £4.5 million shortfall in funding for the scheme - which allows pass holders to travel free on buses - and be told how the gap is putting extreme pressure on maintaining rural bus services.
Under the Government's scheme, eligible older and disabled people are entitled to free off-peak travel, with about 180,000 passholders in Norfolk.
But the costs of providing the minimum scheme far outstrip resources allocated by the Government, and in light of the shortfall, Norfolk County Council leaders have decided to mount a campaign during the Autumn calling for 'Fair Fares' for Norfolk.
As well as a Fair Fares petition, which will be available online and on many Norfolk buses, the County Council will be linking with Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis who has secured a Westminster Hall debate on rural buses on Tuesday October 11 to help highlight the county's plight.
The petition was officially launched outside County Hall on Monday last when council leaders and Brandon Lewis displayed a giant bus ticket demanding the return of £4.5m of funding to Norfolk taxpayers. A number of buses provided a backdrop for the occasion.
Norfolk County Council Leader Derrick Murphy said: "We strongly support the principle of the concessionary bus fare scheme, but the Government simply must give us the tools to do the job. It's completely unfair that taxpayers in Norfolk are being saddled with a huge bill for a scheme at a time when funding for rural transport is under such extreme pressure. We need to send a strong message to Westminster that this unfair system simply can't continue."
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth, said: "I am a passionate supporter of the bus service in Norfolk. In a rural county such as ours, it is a vital lifeline to many hundreds of people in Great Yarmouth and thousands in Norfolk as a whole. However, the current framework the Coalition Government has inherited from the previous Government is unsustainable and has the potential to create a perverse situation where councils are paying to provide passes to residents who will not have any buses to use them on.
"I am supporting this campaign, as I feel it is essential that ministers, especially Norman Baker MP, understand how serious this situation is. I intend my Westminster Hall debate to act as a catalyst to this process; it will bring Norfolk buses to the very heart of Parliament. It is important that the campaign is backed by residents. We need to show that Norfolk people value and care about their bus service, so I would encourage everyone to sign the petition."
The Fair Fares online petition can be accessed via either the County Council's website http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/ or http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/fair-funding-for-concessionary-fares.html .
In addition to signing the online petition, anyone can register approval of the campaign's Facebook page by searching http://www.facebook.com/fairfaresnorfolk .
A print-friendly version of the petition is available for download from http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/.
Petitions will also be available in County Council libraries.