The policy is due to be rolled out from January 2021 and, providing the Scottish parliament pass the budget on the 5 March, £15m will be spent this year preparing for the full roll out in just under nine months’ time.
Under 18s will have free bus travel around Scotland after a deal was reached with the Scottish government.
It was confirmed during the Stage 1 Debate of the 2020 Scottish budget that £80m was being set aside to give all young people aged 18 and younger free bus travel in Scotland. The policy is due to be rolled out from January 2021, similar to the current provision provided to those aged over 60 in Scotland. Work by the Scottish youth parliament found that almost a third of consultation respondents would save at least £50 per month on travel to school, college, or university thanks to the new scheme.
Scottish Green Party co-convenor, Patrick Harvie MSP, said: “Free bus travel for young people is a transformational step towards tackling the climate emergency.
“This scheme will benefit young people starting college and families, some of whom stand to save thousands of pounds a year, and encourage whole generations of public transport users.
Buses are the backbone of local public transport and the key to employment and training opportunities for so many of those starting out in life.”
There will also be a measurable financial benefit to the free bus travel scheme. Scottish Labour analysis in 2019 found that for every £1 spent on concessionary bus travel almost £3 was generated in benefits for the local and wider economy.
The current provision for those aged over 60 in Scotland allows users to simply show their National Entitlement Card, similar to a YoungScot card, when boarding any bus in Scotland. The holder is then able to travel to any destination for no cost. It is expected that the proposed policy for under 19s would be similarly rolled out.
However, the proposal is not without its doubters. Scottish Labour criticised the move for being a “pale imitation of the call, led by Scottish Labour, for free bus travel for under 25s.”
Herald Scotland columnist, Catriona Stewart, further critiqued the proposal for failing to improve a bus service that is often too irregular, slow, and unattractive.
Stewart said: “Free travel for children is a solid start but the next step needs to be ensuring bus travel is still an attractive proposition once they hit the age of 19.”
Providing the Scottish parliament pass the budget on 5 March, £15m will be spent this year preparing for the full roll out in just under nine months’ time.