SHETLAND Islands Council is trialling a project that gives unemployed people free public transport to enable them to attend work experience and develop their skills.
Policy manager Emma Perring told a ZetTrans meeting on Friday that a total of nine people has so far taken part, with seven of them subsequently gaining employment and the two others on their way to getting jobs.
The pilot – believed to be one of the first of its kind in Scotland – stemmed directly from research from the recent Tackling Inequalities Commission, which found that the cost of public transport was a pertinent barrier behind people accessing opportunities in Shetland.
The project, which is ongoing, started in April and it enables people to receive free transport on buses and ferries as they look to secure a job.
The nine people were selected because they were particularly affected by the affordability of travel in Shetland.
Perring said it is likely that some of those who have attained employment may still be jobless if it wasn’t for the access to transport.
“Every one of them will have benefited by either it being foster them to get employment, or they’ve been able to eat better, or pay for energy, because they previously weren’t able to travel,” she said after the meeting.
Perring added that thoughts are now focusing on whether the trial can be rolled out more comprehensively across the isles.
The evidence of the pilot will be used when taking forward the findings of the Tackling Inequalities Commission, which recommend that concessionary travel should be reviewed both locally and nationally.
SIC transport manager Michael Craigie said the initiative came at no cost to the council or ZetTrans, but brought “significant” benefits to the community.
ZetTrans chairman Michael Stout hailed the pilot as an “excellent example of where improving people’s lives does not have to cost money, and can result in a win-win situation, as individuals increase their income, can feel more valued being in the work place, with improvements to health.
“ZetTrans will continue to gather this evidence as part of the work to review concessions at a local level and to inform the Scottish Government in its targeting too,” he said.
Councillor Billy Fox said during the meeting that he was “happy to go down any route” to see more people attain employment.
He also suggested that the concept of carpooling is an issue that should be explored in more detail in Shetland.
Fox said sharing travel to work “went on all the time” when he began employment in the 1960s and 1970s.
He said communities can “work together better” to encourage carpooling, something which is becoming “more prevalent as money gets tighter”.
Perring said carpooling needed to work for those on lower incomes, stressing that there’s a “lot we can do personally” when it comes to offering lifts to neighbours.