Fair fares for island children, says ferry group

Could young people using the Gigha ferry travel for free in the future?
Could young people using the Gigha ferry travel for free in the future?

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Young people aged 18 and under are set to get free bus travel, after the Scottish Government reached a deal with the Scottish Greens to pass its budget.

But in communities where a ferry can be as common as a bus the offer should be extended, the CalMac Community Board believes.

The board represents the users of the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services and welcomed the news about free bus travel but members want to see this opened up so that young people in all areas have equality of access regardless of their geography or financial status.

‘This brings into focus the position for young people for whom the ferry trip is their connecting bus trip, their way of accessing services, and we believe all young people of the same age should be afforded the same rights and opportunities for free travel,’ said Angus Campbell on behalf of the independent CalMac Community Board.

‘The agenda for fairer fares for our youth is not a new one for the community board. As part of the Year of Young People 2018 the board proposed a revision of the fares charged to minibuses taking young people to extracurricular activities between islands and the mainland,’ Mr Campbell continued. ‘This would remove the anomaly of such minibuses being charged significantly higher rates than an equivalent length motorhome and actively encourage educational and sports travel for island pupils.’

After putting forward a convincing case a pilot project was planned but the board has been disappointed: ‘Almost 20 months on we still have not even got the introduction of a pilot through the bureaucracy of approval within the CHFS2 contract.

‘It is our hope that island youngsters receive the equal benefits and opportunities by extending the scheme to include ferry crossings.’

At present children under the age of five travel free and from the age of five to 15 they pay half the adult pedestrian passenger fare.

The free bus fares are planned to begin in January 2021.

Michael Russell MSP for Argyll and Bute welcomed the news: ‘Free bus travel will be an enormous benefit to young people in Argyll and Bute – keeping money in their pockets and improving their opportunities to work, study and socialise.

‘Alongside the £500 million investment in bus infrastructure previously announced by the Scottish Government, this radical and innovative approach will help deliver a step change in the use of public transport.

‘Encouraging the use of public transport is an essential part of our world-leading efforts to tackle the climate emergency.

‘Concessionary travel has brought enormous benefits to those aged over 60 and I’m delighted that it will now be extended to young people.’

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, said: ‘The only commitment given by the Scottish Government is to examine the possibility of free bus travel for 18s and under.

‘But should this policy come to fruition, and I very much hope it does, it must be island-proofed and no community should be left disadvantaged.’

‘Transformational,’ say Greens

Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie MSP hailed the deal struck by the party to deliver free bus travel for young people aged 18 and under as ‘transformational’.

The Scottish Government agreed to implement free bus travel for young people in a major concession to the Scottish Greens as part of the annual Scottish budget process.

This means from 2021 all under-18s across Scotland will be able to use a concessionary scheme to travel for free on bus routes, in a similar way to the entitlement currently held by over-60s.

Greens Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie MSP said: ‘Free bus travel for young people is a transformational step towards tackling the climate emergency. This scheme could save young people and families thousands of pounds a year, and encourage whole generations of public transport users.

‘Buses are the backbone of local public transport and the key to employment and training opportunities for so many of those starting out in life.’

West Coast Motors double decker in Tayinloan on December 29 2018.