ELDERLY Hampshire residents with free bus passes may have to pay 50p every time they travel, under new plans being floated by the county council.

Civic chiefs say, if a charge was introduced, it would help fund future public bus services.

The council also estimates that a fee for holders of the Older Person’s Bus Pass would bring in £4.7 million per year.

However, the authority admitted that a change in national policy would be needed to bring in the charge.

Nevertheless, leader Roy Perry said the authority has “no current plans to introduce” the fee, despite adding that he hoped the council will be granted a chance to pilot the idea by Westminster.

A consultation over the plans ended on Sunday last week.

The idea has been criticised by residents and groups in the county, who have said they were already causing distress among many pensioners.

But council leader Roy Perry said that, based on the consultation comments so far, “it is clear many respondents would be prepared to pay a little to keep the bus services”.

He said: “We do need to make savings in our revenue budget, and all areas of expenditure have been reviewed, including support for public transport.

“A 50p charge would equate to 25 per cent of the average cost of each journey, meaning that council tax payers would still pay 75 per cent of the cost of each journey made using the older persons pass.

“Should this happen, it could generate an annual income of up to £4.7 million – enough to cover the cost of all current bus subsidies and community transport, therefore enabling us to maintain current transport provision.

“As a local authority, our priority is to ensure that our resources are directed to where they are most needed – in consulting on possible changes to the current arrangements for supporting public transport, we will be guided by Hampshire residents to find the fairest and most sensible ways of using the limited funds available to us.”

The controversial plans also include the removal of pass holders’ free travel on Taxishare, Dial-a-Ride and Call and Go services – which receive funding from the authority.

Under the new rules, elderly users would need to subsidised fare of £2.50 or £3.50 per single journey.

This could save the council £240,000 a year, it claims.