The Evening News has won a major victory for Edinburgh’s old and disabled folk by ensuring they will be able to use their bus passes on trams for free when it begins operating.
Our pressure – backed by hundreds of loyal readers – has been hailed as a victory for common sense.
City transport convener Lesley Hinds welcomed the major step forward for the city and said: “We are determined that Edinburgh residents who are eligible for free travel across the country should be able to use the tram on the same basis and we’re now working with Transport Scotland to explore ways in which Edinburgh City Council can support such a local scheme.”
Today’s announcement comes after the Scottish Government and council chiefs agreed to find a way of extending concessionary fares to cover the tram network.
Talks on how the scheme will operate are expected to take place between the council, government agency Transport Scotland and bus and tram operator Lothian Buses in the near future.
But – crucially – the announcement will ensure all entitled residents will be able to use their free passes on the trams in the same way as buses.
Campaigner Tom Gilzean. 92, who worked as a bus driver for 40 years, said he could not continue to carry out his well-recognised charity work without a pass that opens up the tram route to him.
He is “elated” at the decision – sure to enhance the lives of thousands of pensioners living near the trams.
He said: “It’s a feather in the Evening News’ cap for fighting against it.
“I’m not surprised by the decision because it’s common sense. It is very important that pensioners have free travel on the trams.”
It is understood the breakthrough came in talks between council leader Andrew Burns and Transport Minister Keith Brown in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
Councillor Hinds welcomed the agreement and said it paved the way for the integrated bus and tram service, which is vital for the Capital.
She said: “The tram needs to be wholly integrated into the national transport network and, for me, this means that over-60s and people with disabilities should have free use of the service.
“We’ll now start looking at the practicalities of funding this while operating within the national card scheme and we’ll work closely with Transport Scotland to achieve this.”
The agreement to extend free travel to the trams follows last week’s announcement about the continued funding of concessionary travel on buses across Scotland, which will see £10 million of extra government funding into the scheme but the reimbursement rate for bus firms reduced from 67p in the pound to 60p.
Mr Brown said: “Securing the future of the national concessionary bus scheme was a key commitment for the Scottish Government and I am pleased that, following our discussions, Edinburgh City Council has agreed that it will look at ways of funding any local concessionary scheme for the trams.
“This is good news for local residents in Edinburgh and the aim is that this scheme will help promote integration between the tram and local bus services in the city.”
The council is expected to press for the Scottish Government to help fund concessionary fares on the trams, but ministers are so far refusing to commit any cash.
The Evening News launched the Fare Deal For Over-60s campaign last month amid concerns that older and disabled people could be barred from using their passes on the city’s trams once they are finally up and running. Council chiefs warned that failure to apply concessionary fares to trams would undermine the idea of an integrated transport system for the Capital and scupper the proposed joint ticketing for buses and trams.
They also said it would reduce the benefit of the £776 million tram project because bus services along the route would have to be maintained rather than reduced if older people were being denied free travel on the trams.
The News campaign received strong support from the public with hundreds writing in to back the call for free fares.
Fundraising pensioner Mr Gilzean, from Prestonfield, was awarded a British Empire Medal for collecting £40,000 for charity on the Royal Mile in a year. He added: “As far as I’m concerned it’s a concession for buses and the trams should get it as well. I would never have been able to do my charity work without access to free travel.”
• January 14, 2013: The Evening News launches the Fare Deal campaign after revealing that over-60s faced being banned from using their bus passes on the trams, with the Scottish Government refusing to confirm that concessionary travel would be extended.
• January 17: Good Samaritan Tom Gilzean joins hundreds of others in backing the campaign, saying that he would never have been able to carry out the charitable work that earned him a BEM without access to free travel.
• January 23: Pressure continues to mount on the Scottish Government after the Fare Deal For Over-60s campaign wins cross-party support from councillors, MPs and MSPs, along with growing support from city residents.
• January 25: Transport Minister Keith Brown refuses to guarantee free fares for older and disabled people on Edinburgh’s trams, after being shown a copy of the Evening News with the headline “You cannae put your granny on a tram”. The minister said Strathclyde Partnership for Transport had demanded that if the trams were to be included in the scheme the Glasgow subway should be as well.
• February 1: Former transport minister Tavish Scott backs our campaign, and claims the SNP’s past opposition to the tram scheme was behind their refusal to extend the free fares scheme for the over-60s.
Comment: ‘Only fair we all benefit’
Today’s announcement that the over-60s will be able to use their concessionary pass to board the trams shows that pressure from readers and a strong campaign from your local newspaper can make a
Every one of us in the Capital has been affected in some way by the tram project. We have been delayed by the construction works, frustrated by the overruns and some businesses have foundered amid the chaos. So, it is only fair that we are all allowed to share in the benefits of faster travel on this new route.