Around half of all residents of Scotland will be eligible for government-funded free bus travel from 31 January 2022 after the Scottish Government confirmed that the benefit would be extended to under-22s from that date.
Legislative changes to allow the travelcard-based young persons’ concessionary scheme to extend from its originally planned scope of under-19s will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament shortly via a new Scottish Statutory Instrument (SSI).
When the project comes to fruition, it will enable around 930,000 under-22s resident in Scotland to receive free bus travel. Transport Scotland says that one-third of the country’s population is already eligible for the same benefit through the older and disabled persons concessionary travel scheme.
The current SSI – laid when the scope of the young people’s scheme was to extend no further than under-19s – shows that operators would be reimbursed 60.2% of an agreed adult single fare for each journey. An objective (but not a duty) is that they are neither worse off nor better off because of their participation.
The existing SSI also notes that ministers may serve a compulsory participation notice on an operator of a service that is in scope of the concessionary travel scheme.
In a response to an earlier consultation on the first iteration of proposals for young people’s free travel, one operator claimed that the ‘no better off, no worse off’ model “may not be suitable for this scheme as [it] has proved to negatively impact operators in the very recent past” and suggested that “a new, improved” method may be required.
One operator suggested that “the economics of providing additional capacity for new demand predominantly at [a] reduced fare is incredibly difficult for any operator to justify on a commercial basis.” It raised the potential to provide a variation in reimbursement levels that is time of day-based.
However, a local authority countered operators’ concerns by suggesting that the free travel scheme could lead to long-term modal shift among passengers once they pass their 22nd birthday, increasing farebox revenue.
Speaking on the confirmation that the scheme will now extend to under-22s, Minister for Transport Graeme Dey says: “It is crucial to embed more sustainable travel behaviour from a young age if we are to achieve our world-leading goal of reducing the number of kilometres travelled by car by 20% by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2045.
“We also know that young people have been disproportionately impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s never been more important that we support them to achieve their fullest potential. Reducing barriers created by transport is one really positive action we can take.”