Free bus pass age increase for over-60s in Wales axed
Plans to raise the age older people are eligible to receive a free bus pass in Wales have been shelved by ministers.
A new law would have seen the age rise to match the state pension age of 65, which rises again to 67 by 2028.
Minsters have expressed concerns over the cost of the passes with 880,000 expected to be eligible by 2021.
The decision has been welcomed by the Older People's Commissioner for Wales, saying it would have affected up to 300,000 people.
Heléna Herklots said she had "consistently expressed my opposition to the proposals", when they were unveiled by Transport Minister Ken Skates in July.
"Access to free bus travel brings many benefits for older people, supporting their health, well-being and independence, enabling them to remain connected and engaged with their communities, supporting them in their caring responsibilities and enabling them to stay in employment or access learning and training opportunities," the commissioner said.
According to a recent consultation, pass holders account for about 47% of bus journeys in Wales, with around 730,000 passes in circulation at the end of 2018.
Bus firms are reimbursed on the basis of an adult single fare, according to a White Paper published last year.
Figures from 2016 showed the cost of providing free bus travel up to that point was in the region of £840m.
A Welsh Government official said Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce free bus travel for older people.
"We will be doing further work to develop a more flexible and long-term approach towards fare concessions, considering financial implications and passenger need," the spokesperson said
"As a result of this additional work, this policy area will not be included in the forthcoming bus legislation," they added.
Janet Finch-Saunders, the Welsh Conservatives' spokeswoman on older people, said she was "delighted that a common-sense decision has been made by the Welsh Government just before Christmas".
"It could have seen reduced bus use, threaten the viability of routes, and run the risk of increasing loneliness and isolation," she said.