Men and women aged over 60 could soon be handed free public transport passes after West Midlands council leaders moved to introduce Government policy a year before it becomes mandatory.

This week, Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby will ask the West Midlands Joint Leaders Committee to introduce the concessionary fare scheme for 60 to 65-year-olds, who currently only receive half-price travel cards.

Birmingham is said to be ready to plough £1.5 million into lowering the age limit for free travel, a move that will provide a free travel for 12,840 men in the city and 13,200 women.

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) wants the Passenger Transport Authority to investigate introducing the free passes as soon as possible.

However, the administration is also reported to be ready to go it alone and introduce the concessions - announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown earlier this year and due to be nationally implemented by April 2006 - even if other districts disagree.

Last night, Coun Whitby said: "As a conurbation, we have long been in the vanguard of free public transport for pensioners.

" We have maintained totally free transport for over 65 year olds, but had to cut this to half fare benefit for 60-65 year-olds.

"We don't want to wait 12 months to extend free transport to 60-year olds and in partnership with our colleagues in the conurbation want immediately to explore early introduction."

Ironically, two years ago former PTA chairman Richard Worrall lost a fight with the Joint Leaders Committee to introduce free travel for all at 60 when EU regulations demanding equality between men and women were adopted by the UK Parliament.

The Joint Leaders refused to fund equalisation at 60 and instead introduced half-price travel for all between 60 and 64, with the full reduction kicking in at 65.

The decision cost 24,000 60 to 64-year-old women their entitlement to free travel. Ever since, pensioners have been leaving the buses in droves.

Last year, there was a 7.5 per cent fall in the use of the passes, which left the PTA with more than £5 million unspent cash.

Coun Ted Richards, leader of Solihull Council and chairman of the Joint Leaders, confirmed the committee's support for the move.

He said: "We will be asking the PTA and other Council Leaders to investigate the early introduction of this proposed change and would hope it could be effective by the summer so our over 60s can exercise their free travel over the better weather this year.

"In the conurbation, our travel pass covers trains as well as buses and we would be keen for all our older citizens to take full advantage of this support."