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Transport / MSYP calls for action on extending free bus travel scheme to ferries

The Yell ferry Dagalien. Photo: SIC

ONE of Shetland’s members of the Scottish Youth Parliament says it is “unacceptable” that ferry fares are still not included in the planned roll-out of free bus travel for under 22s.

Jonathan Dorrat said the “Scottish Government won’t acknowledge that an inter-island ferry is equivalent to a bus”.

The government is due to roll-out free bus fares for all under 22s from January.

It has provoked concern locally, however, that the scheme does not include inter-island ferry fares.

The issue was brought up with first minister Nicola Sturgeon during an event last week on behalf of the Scottish Youth Parliament.

She said under concessionary fares young people do receive some free ferry trips – but they are for the NorthLink service to the mainland.

Sturgeon said the government was also “working hard to try to reduce ferry fares for everybody”.

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

The first minister added that “generally we need to always be asking ourselves if the policies we introduce take proper account of the experience of life for people in rural and remote and island communities”.

Dorrat said an islands impact assessment had been worked on by the Scottish Government but this still has not been published.

“Children and young people living on islands have to pay for ferries to go to school, take part in sport, access healthcare, go shopping, go to the cinema and many more day to day trips,” he said.

“Outside of essential daily travel, free bus travel will enable those under 22 to travel across the country for free.

“Over 300 miles for example from John O Groats to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

“Whereas in our isles the same policy will only enable free transport within one island. From Sumburgh to Hillswick will be the furthest distance for young islanders, without paying for a council ferry or NorthLink ferries.”

Dorrat said he contacted government agency Transport Scotland over why only 16 to 18 year olds receive free ferry vouchers to mainland Scotland through the concessionary scheme.

Transport minister Graeme Dey responded by saying the current young person concessionary travel scheme was made for 16, 17 and 18 year old olds as they are in a “transitional period of their lives” and “on a limited income”.

As to why the scheme was not extended to all students over age 18, the minister said for those “entering higher education or otherwise participating in Scottish society, it was considered right that they should pay a proportion of their transport costs”.

Dorrat said in response: “Until 2022 this makes sense, mainland students post 18 get discounted bus travel, islands students post 18 get discounts on NorthLink connections to the mainland.

“In 2022 all bus travel will become free; however this will not be the case on ferries.

“This means while a Scottish mainland student can eliminate almost all transport costs between home and university.

“Islanders aged under 22 studying on the mainland face a huge ferry bill, this can only be described as discrimination to those who live in the isles.

“I call on the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to include ferry travel in the new under 22s free bus travel scheme.

“If additional adjustments were made to the previous concessionary schemes to make them fair for islanders, this must happen again on free bus travel.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman told Shetland News earlier this year that “our existing Young Persons Concessionary Travel Scheme provides 16-18 year old islanders four free ferry journeys to or from the mainland every year”.

“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,” he added.

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