AN ESSENTIAL free travel concession for elderly and vulnerable people will not be halted during the worsening Covid-19 pandemic, Oxfordshire County Council announced in a dramatic U-turn in its policy.

Oxford Bus Company revealed that the council was to axe funding for PickMeUp concessionary bus passes – the service run with an app which launched in June 2018.

But today when the concession scheme was due to stop, the local authority changed its mind and announced plans to keep the free travel running during the ongoing pandemic.

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The popular service for passengers, including elderly and vulnerable residents, has allowed passengers in eastern Oxford to call buses to pick them up on a selected street corner of their choosing.

One Oxfordshire resident Helen Fletcher, who is a bus pass holder, said she was shocked to find out that the free travel she benefits from was set to be scrapped.

Ms Fletcher explained that she found out about the major change earlier this week via a push notification from the PickMeUp app.

She highlighted that this ‘very short notice and ridiculously poor timing in the current state of things’.

When the council announced its original decision Phil Southall, Oxford Bus Company managing director, said: “While we respect the council’s decision, this is very disappointing news for our valued customers.

“It comes during a period when many people need additional support and furthermore at a time when we were already seeking additional financial support for the PickMeUp service.”

Oxford Mail:

After extended discussions Oxfordshire County Council informed Oxford Bus Company it no longer wished to continue to reimburse the operator for carrying concessionary bus pass holders on the service for the new 2020/21 scheme year.

But since then the county council revealed it has been in further discussions with the bus company and come to an agreement.

A spokesman for the authority said county councillors recognised the unique value of the free travel service during this ‘challenging time’ to help essential journeys for the vulnerable and key workers to be made.

He added: “We have agreed to provide alternative support to enable concessionary bus passes to continue to be used on the service during the current crisis.

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“We are however in the meantime engaging with all operators to ensure our communities can continue to use public transport for essential journeys.”

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “We are living in unprecedented and very difficult times and that is why we are doing what we can to support services that are really critical. The main message at the moment is that people should limit their travel to essential journeys.”