ELDERLY and disabled people will be hit hardest by changes to Diamond Bus fares in Kidderminster, says the former chief officer of the district's Age UK.

'Twirlybird' tickets, which offer a concessionary price for senior and disabled pass-holders before 9.30am, are no longer available on some long-distance services, including the 3 from Kidderminster to Arley Kings, the 42/43 from Redditch and Bromsgrove to Kidderminster, the 192 from Kidderminster to Halesowen, the 292S from Kidderminster to Cleobury Mortimer or the 302/303 from Kidderminster to Worcester.

From today (Wednesday), the cost of Twirlybird tickets on other services has also risen from £1 to £1.20.

Jenny Knowles, former chief officer at Kidderminster's Age UK, says the fare changes will further restrict elderly residents’ ability to get around.

Speaking to The Shuttle, she said: "Buses are a life-saver for many older people.

"When you're on your own at home all the time and you can't get around as easily, you do lose a lot of your freedom and independence and this can so easily cause depression.

"But services are being cut, and now it's costing them more to use them. It's just making it harder and harder for older people to get out of the house.

"Elderly people in the countryside will feel it the most because they’re the most secluded.”

But Diamond says the fare changes are necessary to make services in Kidderminster, which are currently 'borderline on being commercially viable', more sustainable.

A spokesman said: "The Twirlybird fare is less than we receive as a concessionary fare in a number of cases, so it would be better for our business if they travelled after 9.30am using their concessionary pass.

"The knock-on effect is that we are also worsening our concessionary reimbursement by charging lower fares than the average.

"I am sure you can appreciate when we have services that are marginal, compared with continuing to cut the early and late trips that aren’t carrying the required number of passengers, this seems a logical alternative step."

They added: "The Twirlybird ticket has only been withdrawn from the long-distance services where this discretionary low fare rate is not sustainable, however the pre-9.30am ticket is still available for concessionary travellers on our local Kidderminster town services."

As part of Diamond's 2019 fare changes, single and return tickets have also risen in price by between 10p and 20p, which the company says is in response to 'increasing operational and employment costs and reducing local authority subsidies'.

Adults in Kidderminster will now pay £3.80 instead of £3.50 for a day ticket, £15 instead of £13 for a week, and £38 up from £36 for a monthly pass.

A children's day ticket has increased by 50p to £2.50, while a weekly pass will rise from £9 to £11.50. A family day pass will cost £8.50 - a rise of £1.

On the Diamond Bus website, the company has pledged to invest in new modern and more environmentally vehicles in 2019 to ‘provide a better travel experience’ for its customers.

It goes on to say: "Where possible, we have tried to keep any increases as low as possible and in many cases we are still offering the lowest cost fares on services within the West Midlands network.

"In a 2018 industry survey Diamond bus fares were found to be some of the lowest in the country and despite the new year increases we are still offering many of our day tickets at below the national average."