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Transport / More calls for free bus travel as figures reveal impact of under-22 scheme

Investigations will also be undertaken on introducing more 7pm bus departures from Lerwick

Viking Bus Station.

FRESH calls have been made for free bus travel for all in Shetland.

It comes as new figures on bus usage shows the impact the national free travel for under 22s scheme has had in Shetland.

For example on the 7pm Lerwick-Scalloway route there has been an upturn of 416 per cent for young people.

Overall across the network on the 9pm services to Scalloway, Sumburgh, Walls and Toft there has been an increase of 251 per cent on child and youth tickets.

The figures focused on evening bus services.

Meanwhile members of ZetTrans moved for a report to be produced on the prospect of introducing 7pm buses from Lerwick on service six, nine and 23.

Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage said he wanted other areas of Shetland to be in line with the service four to Scalloway, which has a 7pm run.

He said for instance there is a gap in the South Mainland service between 5pm and 9pm, which he said for young people especially is a late time to be returning home if they cannot get the 5.15pm.

A range of matters relating to buses were raised at a meeting of transport partnership ZetTrans on Monday.

Members were told that a public transport fares review, which would cover buses, ferries and planes, remains in the offing.

Lead officer Michael Craigie said a previous sticking point was on how fare structures for different groups of people could be implemented, and with proving eligibility deemed to be difficult.

Fares will be included in a wider review of public bus, school and social care transport which will be completed this calendar year ahead of new contracts being issued in August 2025, with a consultant due to be appointed.

Having free public transport is one of a range of options which would be considered in the review.

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Craigie said the last bus review focused on resourcing and the cost of providing services, but now the wider issues of climate targets, inclusion and equality are significant.

He added that a national fair fares review for transport is due to be publish by the Scottish Government in the next three weeks.

Shetland South councillors Armitage and Robbie McGregor both repeated their view that all bus travel should be made free.

Green councillor Armitage said this would have wide-ranging benefits, especially for people on low incomes.

He said the introduction of free bus transport for under 22s a couple of years ago by the Scottish Government has been a “huge success”.

SNP councillor McGregor said he often makes use of free bus travel on the Scottish mainland, as a result of his age, and said he would continue to raise the idea of universal free public transport in Shetland “at every possible opportunity”.

He added that he would like to see visitors to Shetland included in any future scheme.

Both elected members teamed up in 2022 to put a motion to the full council to explore the cost and feasibility of free bus and internal ferry fares, but they lost out in a tight vote.

VisitScotland’s Steve Mathieson also asked if visitors would also be encouraged to use public transport as well as locals – with the answer being yes.

He said visitors to Shetland have probably been using public transport more now than in the past.

Craigie, however, warned that current bus issues like driver availability will no go away “just by throwing money” at them.

Shetland West member Liz Peterson also spoke up for “dial a ride” bus services, saying they could reduce the cost risk of public transport.

She said increasing this service could benefit people in more rural areas.

Lyall meanwhile encouraged community participation in any future consultation on the public bus review.

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