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Essex County Council (ECC) has been advised to delay plans to scrap free park and ride travel until a special commission to help combat climate change looks at it.
Thousands of people may stop using park and ride – the number of pensioners who may stop using the service may fall by a half – if ECC adopts a policy of scrapping free travel and bringing in a flat £1.50 fee after 9am.
However, the council has come under scrutiny – especially given council leader David Finch’s announcement on a major climate change initiative.
The Climate Change Commission will meet later this year and be made up of members and experts in the field.
The commission will have an initial budget of £250,000 to fund and support environmental initiatives that look to reduce CO2 and waste, promote sustainable transport and work to combat climate change.
At a scrutiny meeting on Thursday Cllr David Kendall said: “I am against the proposal. This is a clear result and 76 per cent of those who responded were against. It gives a very clear steer.
“But this plan to me is the council sending out mixed messages.
“We had the big statement on the climate change commission and the climate change action plan and we have this issue.”
He admitted that even though the £250,000 for the commission was relatively small, a reserve of £2.6million could be used towards the commission.
He added: “If we had independent people in this commission – we don’t t know what the makeup of the commission is going to be yet.
“But surely it would make sense to delay a decision on park and ride until this commission has looked at this specific issue in terms of the effect this I having.
“The leader made a very clear statement. He said one of the key areas was changing how residents travel.
“The whole point of park and ride was to get residents out of their cars.”
Cabinet member Cllr Ray Gooding said: “I take your point and it is something I would want to consider.”
Of the 1,494 people who responded to a council consultation, 26 per cent of people agreed with the proposal, because they felt it was fairer for everyone, that all users should contribute to the service and they felt if they could run a car they should contribute.
However, 74 per cent of people disagreed with the proposal because they felt older people should receive taxpayer funded transport, it supports independent living and prevents isolation, or older people use it to access healthcare.
In total 34 per cent of respondents would continue to use the service, 45 per cent would park elsewhere, 49 per cent would go shopping elsewhere and six per cent would switch to bus.
Chelmsford’s services collectively in Sandon and Chelmer Valley made a loss of £23,739 in the last financial year.
About 25 per cent of those using park and ride services in Chelmsford travel for free.
There is no indication from the consultation those individuals would travel by car instead.
But if they do as many as 150,000 extra car journeys each year may be generated from pensioners who previously took the park and ride.