MORE older people using Shetland’s buses with bus passes could be a reason why there is a projected decrease of £60,000 in fare income this financial year.
Shetland Islands Council finance manager Jamie Manson told members of isles’ transport partnership on Thursday that the projected shortfall against the budget amounted to an 8.4 per cent decrease.
One possible reason officers have for this at the moment is that it seems more people aged over 60 are getting trips with bus passes, which sees ZetTrans only reimbursed by the government to the tune of 57 per cent of a full fare.
Lead officer Michael Craigie said there was no consistent pattern in usage change, although there has been a reduction in passengers on the North Mainland service and the Lerwick town bus.
He thought the completion of the Shetland Gas Plant near Sullom Voe Terminal could have affected the north service, while a shift towards other ways of travel – such as walking – may have impacted the town bus.
But Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison said he had heard from a number of constituents that the routing and timetabling of the town service was not working for some users.
“There’s a definitely a problem,” he said. “The contract needs to be reviewed.”
Speaking after the meeting, ZetTrans chairman Ryan Thomson said it was a “peerie bit concerning” that there was a “relatively significant shortfall” without too many clues why.
“We don’t appear to have any explanation other than perhaps potentially at this stage the ageing population – obviously when you reach a certain age you get a free bus pass, which makes fares free,” he said.
“So in terms of where we go from here, obviously we have an ageing demographic, which means this shortfall in revenue from our bus services will potentially only get worse. So it’s something we obviously need to keep an eye on.
“There’s a significant piece of work going on at the moment in terms of creating a bus network that is fit for all purposes, and we need to make sure that the next bus contract is fit for purpose and to allow as many people, and encourage as many people, to use the bus service as possible to make it both viable for ourselves and convenient for the users.”
ZetTrans also has a projected overspend in public transport services of £195,000 for 2018/19, meaning that there is an anticipated increased contribution required from the council to cover the costs.
Sandison expressed concern that this would be taken out of the council’s environment and transport committee budget, which could create a knock-on effect to other services.