A MAJOR bus operator has hit out at the decision to impose a charge on pensioner’s travel passes.

Last week, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) approved proposals to charge older people £10 a year for previously free train and tram passes.

Transport bosses involved in the decision have said that the funds would be used to help implement an overhaul of the bus network, which could fall into public hands through a system of franchising.

However, Stagecoach, which runs services across Greater Manchester, says the charges, agreed on by mayor Andy Burnham, should “leave the region’s taxpayers extremely worried”.

A spokesman for the company said: “It is the start of a far bigger tax bill that will land on the doormats of Greater Manchester residents to fund the Mayor’s proposed plans to take buses into public ownership.

“Motorists, cyclists and even those who walk to work will pay a huge price for the Mayor’s plans - even if they don’t use buses.”

Stagecoach - along with other Greater Manchester bus operators - has already presented its own plan for the future of transport in the form of a £100m document.

However, the company says the ‘OneBus’ proposals are not being given proper consideration by authorities.

They said: “What makes this even more frustrating for local people is that these taxes are completely unnecessary.

“For six months, the Mayor and his office have had on their desks a £100m blueprint developed by bus operators to deliver better and more integrated public transport in Greater Manchester.

“Delivered through a partnership approach, it would ensure quick and extensive improvements at no expense to the taxpayer.

“That is in stark contrast to public ownership which would see local people wait years for improvements and have to foot the massive bill.

“The Mayor and the Combined Authority have refused to be transparent and reveal the true cost of their bus reform plans.

“The fact is, London’s bus network, which they want to replicate in Manchester, runs at a £700m deficit each year, with routes being cut and passenger numbers falling faster than the rest of England.”

In response to the complaints, a spokesman for Mr Burnham’s office said the fee for elderly travel would make the service consistent with other concessionary schemes including the new 16-18 bus pass.

“The change to concessionary travel arrangements for older people will improve consistency with the other schemes and ensure fairness across all age groups,” they said.

“All older people will still benefit from free off-peak bus travel after 9:30am across Greater Manchester regardless and the fee will only apply to those people who want to add, or ‘opt in’ to off-peak tram and rail services in Greater Manchester.

“The £10 fee will not apply to people who wish to just use off-peak bus services and disabled people will not be affected by the change.

“Any monies generated from this change will be ring fenced for investment in transport services, including in particular the bus network, as well as helping to support local concessionary schemes.”