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Viewpoint / Free bus travel for youngsters welcome, but more can be done

This week the Scottish Government confirmed that under 22s will receive free bus travel from January next year – but at this stage transport on ferries for islanders is not part of the plans. One of Shetland’s two members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, Jonathan Dorrat, gives us his view

Buses in Shetland will soon be fitted with a new smart ticketing system. Photo: Shetland News

AS SHETLAND’s Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) sitting on the Transport, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee I have recently contributed to the consultation on the young person’s free bus travel scheme.

The scheme is an exciting opportunity to make public transport accessible to more young people than ever, and therefore improving youth access to more opportunities.

I represented young Shetlanders in the initial consultation phase, supporting the proposal and heavily emphasising the importance of free inter-island ferries for young people. Following this, I was encouraged to see Transport Scotland carrying out an islands impact assessment.

In SYP’s response, I contributed further details on the reality of bus travel in Shetland and how integral inter-island ferries are in that. It is also important to note that in mainland Scotland, the free bus travel scheme will allow young people to explore other regions and be tourists, this is not possible for islanders who have to pay for travel to the mainland.

The Young Persons Concessionary Travel Scheme, which provides 16-18 year old islanders with four free ferry journeys a year to or from the mainland, is the issue most commonly raised with the Shetland MSYPs.

Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament Jonathan Dorrat. Photo: Shetland News

This is because the scheme ends at age 18 and is of no use to low income students, who must travel to and from the mainland to attend education. I was able to share the issue at a meeting with Transport Scotland earlier this year and look forward to hearing the outcome of the Concessionary Travel Review, which was called for by the Scottish Youth Parliament’s All Aboard campaign.

Locally, transport was the biggest issue facing young Shetlanders as the 2019 UK Youth Parliament consultation, Make Your Mark, showed. Leighton Anderson and I, as members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, will continue to advocate for the extension of the 16-18 year old concessionary travel free ferry voucher scheme to include young people until their 26th birthday, in line with the Scottish Youth Parliament’s policy.

Recommendation from All Aboard, SYP’s 2018/19 campaign on public transport

‘The Scottish Youth Parliament believes that Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government should review the existing concessionary discount on public transport, available to 16-18 year olds through the Young Scot National Entitlement Card, to expand the concession to include all young people (up to their 26th birthday) at no cost to young people across all public transport networks.’

The youth parliament takes transport issues seriously as the democratically elected voice of Scotland’s young people. Relevant policies recently passed by MSYPs demonstrate this:

Members’ motion by Aaran McDonald MSYP, Cunninghame South:

‘The Scottish Youth Parliament believes that ferry fares should be reduced to encourage tourism and economic growth as the Scottish islands recover from COVID-19.’

Members’ motion by Cameron Garret MSYP, Argyll and Bute:

‘The Scottish Youth Parliament calls on ferry operators to introduce a discounted fare for people who use ferries as an essential method of transport.’

Along with my colleague Leighton Anderson MSYP, we are hoping to meet with Beatrice Wishart MSP and Highlands and Islands MSPs to continue momentum on the issue of ferries.

We look forward to hearing the outcome of the island impact assessment Transport Scotland has completed.