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Transport / Island impact assessment ongoing into free bus travel for youngsters plan

There have been calls for ferries to be included in the Scottish Government scheme

Photo: Shetland News

AN ISLAND community impact assessment on Scottish Government plans for free bus travel for under-22s is due to be published later this summer.

It comes as government agency Transport Scotland confirmed today (Tuesday) that everyone under the age of 22 will be eligible for free bus travel from 31 January 2022.

There was no mention in the announcement of providing free ferry fares as well for young islanders, however – something which local politicians have repeatedly called for.

But a spokesperson for Transport Scotland said an assessment of the proposal’s impact on island communities is ongoing.

Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said the local authority will continue to engage with the government on the matter.

“Our existing Young Persons Concessionary Travel Scheme provides 16-18 year old islanders four free ferry journeys to or from the mainland every year,” a Transport Scotland spokesman said.

“We have invested significantly in reducing ferry fares for all passengers through the roll out of Road Equivalent Tariff in recent years, and under 16s travel for half fare and under 5s for free on Calmac and NorthLink services.

“We are looking at ferry fares through our review of concessionary travel across modes for under 26-year-olds and the Islands Connectivity Plan.”

Thomson said the announcement of free bus travel for under 22s in Shetland and Scotland is “certainly welcome” in terms of increasing employment and educational opportunities for younger folk, and it potentially having a positive impact on the isles’ carbon footprint.

“The SIC have fed into this process the real issues some families have in Shetland with the costs of public transport and the detrimental effect this has on their children accessing both social and educational institutions, and this will go a significant way to addressing this cost for families,” he added.

“While there is no extension so far to internal ferry travel, I’m encouraged to hear that an islands impact assessment is being undertaken which I’m sure will highlight the issues around those on the remote islands who use the ferry services as their bus service.

“There is also an ongoing fares review being undertaken by the Shetlands Islands Council and the forthcoming review of concessionary travel.

“We will continue to engage positively with both Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to highlight these issues which are exclusive to our most remote and rural locations.”

The government estimates that around 930,000 young people will benefit from the extended eligibility.

A commitment was previously in place to introduce free bus travel for five to 18 year olds, but the proposal were extended further following a budget agreement with the Scottish Greens.