DCSIMG

Fury as ministers refuse OAPs guarantee of free trams travel

THE Scottish Executive came under fire today for refusing to guarantee that pensioners and disabled passengers will get free travel on Edinburgh's trams.

Ministers are considering the issue alongside a bid from Glasgow to provide the same concessions on its subway system.

There are understood to be concerns about covering the extra costs of the scheme, which is already priced at 160 million, and the Executive is reluctant to allow the concession on the trams without offering the same to subway passengers.

But with some buses due to be pulled from the routes where trams will run, pensioners face losing out if they are forced to pay for tram trips. John Wilson, president of the Scottish Pensions Association, said: "I can't understand why they won't say trams will be included - they are still a form of public transport.

"For disabled people, it will be very easy for them to travel by tram because there is more room, so if the concessionary travel scheme didn't apply there would be considerable dissent."

David Griffiths, chief executive of Ecas - a charity which helps physically disabled people in and around Edinburgh - added: "We now have a national concessionary pass, the aim of which is to aid people who need financial assistance to travel. And taxpayers are investing huge sums of money to ensure trams are fully accessible for disabled people.

"The logic of then saying that you have to pay to travel on the tram escapes me. We have been discussing this with the council, because the number of buses will be reduced when trams come in, so how are people with severe mobility impairments going to move around the city? They will be forced back into cars and taxis."

Millions of pounds is being spent to ensure trams are fully-accessible for people with mobility difficulties, and the council today said it has been lobbying hard to guarantee free travel for pensioners and disabled passengers.

Alistair Watson, chairman of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, has said the subway was effectively a "tram system that runs underground".

He has told Transport Minister Tavish Scott that travel on the network should be free if trams were added to the bus pass scheme.

The issue has also been raised in the Scottish Parliament, by SNP Lothians MSP Kenny MacAskill.

"It would be absurd if pensioners and disabled people could not use the trams for free," he said today.

"Instead of being able to travel on a free and regular bus, they would be forced on to an expensive tram, and that would be totally unacceptable. There are good reasons why the concessionary scheme should include Glasgow's underground system as well, but it is essential for Edinburgh because bus routes will be pulled."

In his response to Mr MacAskill, Mr Scott said: "No decision has been made on whether the free bus travel scheme for older and disabled people should be extended to cover travel on any future Edinburgh tram network. The current scheme will be reviewed after its first few years of operation, and Scottish ministers may make regulatory changes to it then."

Council leader Ewan Aitken added: "Kenny MacAskill is well aware that Transport Scotland has already been looking into this at our request.

"The concessionary travel scheme will be reviewed before trams come into operation. I am confident that it will be a key component of the integrated tram and bus ticketing system which will provide a truly accessible form of modern public transport."

Edinburgh's 592m tram project is expected to be up and running by 2010.

Ministers are considering the issue alongside a bid from Glasgow to provide the same concessions on its subway system.

There are understood to be concerns about covering the estimated 160 million cost of the Glasgow scheme, and the Executive is reluctant to allow the concession on the trams without offering the same to subway passengers.

But with buses due to be pulled from the routes where trams will run, pensioners face losing out if they are forced to pay for tram trips. John Wilson, president of the Scottish Pensions Association, said: "I can't understand why they won't say trams will be included - they are still a form of public transport.

"For disabled people, it will be very easy for them to travel by tram because there is more room, so if the concessionary travel scheme didn't apply there would be considerable dissent."

 
 
 

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