The Scottish Government has pushed ahead with its plans to provide free bus travel to all young people under the age of 19 who live in Scotland. It comes after a consultation returned an overwhelmingly positive response to the proposal.
Draft legislation has thus been laid before the Scottish Parliament. If approved, the scheme will commence operation “as soon as practicable” during FY2021/22. It will provide free travel to around 770,000 young people. Transport Scotland (TS) estimates that around 10% more bus journeys will be made by the relevant age group as a result.
Local and long-distance scheduled services are in scope of the scheme. It will replace an existing one-third discount offered to people aged 16-18. Take-up of that has typically been low as it is often bettered by operators’ own promotions such as season tickets.
“The overall policy aim of the proposed new young persons’ scheme is to encourage Scotland’s younger generations to use public transport with a view to embedding that behaviour from a young age,” says a Business and Regulatory Impact Statement.
Although the reimbursement rate will be 60.3% of the adult single fare, uncertainty over passenger numbers created by the COVID-19 pandemic and limited existing data mean that reimbursement terms have been estimated. They will utilise the ‘no worse off, no better off’ principle.
No budget cap has been put in place for the young persons’ scheme for the same reason. However, TS estimates that up to 67.6m journeys per annum will be made by eligible people. That would lead to an annual reimbursement of up to £89.4m.
“It will be important to monitor the scheme closely as it come into operation in order to avoid significant adverse financial impacts, generally for individual operators or groups of operators,” the impact statement continues.
“This work with bus operators will also help to improve reimbursement modelling in future years and to identify any problems for individual operators that might arise and [which] will need to be addressed.”
The Scottish Government recognises that the young persons’ free bus travel scheme may impact operators’ peak vehicle requirements. While that concern is unlikely to manifest itself in the short term, “it will need to be kept under active review and mitigations put in place if necessary.”