Under-22s Free Bus Travel Scheme

Portfolio Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament am 2:30 pm ar 23 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party 2:30, 23 Mai 2024

To ask the Scottish Government when the young persons (under-22s) free bus travel scheme was last reviewed. (S6O-03471)

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

More than 137 million journeys have been made since the young persons free bus travel scheme began. A one-year evaluation of the scheme was published in December 2023. The study showed that the scheme is making good progress towards longer-term objectives by reducing travel costs for young people and their families; encouraging a shift towards public transport from private car use; and improving access to social, leisure, education and employment opportunities. The three-year evaluation of the scheme is planned for 2025 and will focus on longer-term impacts and whether behaviour changes have been sustained.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

I know from young constituents the immense benefit that the scheme has brought to their lives. For one such constituent, it has opened up social and educational opportunities and allowed him to travel more widely, when that was previously limited due to a health condition.

However, other young constituents have expressed concern regarding aspects of the application process—specifically, difficulties in providing proof of address due to their young age and technical issues in using the face scanner, which had to be repeatedly used before it would work. What further steps can the Scottish Government take to improve and streamline the application process to ensure that it is accessible and user friendly, and to encourage continued uptake of this successful and important scheme?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

Since the introduction of free bus travel for under-22s, we have been acutely aware that applying for their entitlement is challenging for some children and young people. That is why, early on, we listened carefully to what families and young people were telling us, and we worked with the Improvement Service to make improvements.

We have worked hard to ensure that children, parents and young people know that there are a number of different ways in which to apply—it is not just online—and that local authorities continue to process offline applications and have dedicated staff on hand to support anyone who might need additional support. Some authorities have also increased the availability of applications made through schools.

We keep the application process under review, so, if there are changes that Ms Nicoll thinks should be made, I would be happy to meet her to discuss those, as well as the particular circumstances of her constituent, to see whether we can resolve issues.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Ceidwadwyr

When I held a members’ business debate in December on the issue of the antisocial behaviour of a minority of people using the free bus travel scheme, the Minister for Transport committed to looking at the issue and reporting back to the Parliament. That has not happened yet, but I understand that a working group has been set up. Will the minister tell us how many times the group has met, what its remit is and when we can expect to hear any progress?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

We are absolutely aware that some incidents of antisocial behaviour have been linked to the introduction of the young persons free bus travel scheme. It is important to remember that the vast majority of people use the bus properly. One of my concerns about the fact that this issue keeps coming up about the scheme—quite rightly; I am not saying that it should not be brought up—is that people get the impression that all young people are behaving badly, which is absolutely not the case.

The Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 provides a wide range of measures for dealing with antisocial behaviour, including dispersal orders.

To answer the question directly, we will report back to you with details; I will give you that in writing, so that we can give you the proper facts.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Always speak through the chair, please. There is a supplementary question from Alex Rowley.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Llafur

As well as the fair fares review committing to the continuation of free travel for under-22s, it stated, as a short-term action, that the Government would

“develop a proposal for a bus flat fares pilot”.

What progress has been made? Is there a timeline in place for that?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

As Alex Rowley will be well aware, this is a deregulated sector, so we have to do scoping work on what the flat fares pilot will look like. As that develops, I will be more than happy to meet Alex Rowley to discuss progress.