A FORMER Transport Minister today claimed the SNP’s past opposition to the trams lay behind its refusal to extend the free fares scheme for the over-60s.
Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott said the failure to include the trams in the national concessionary fare system could be traced back to the Nationalists’ attempts to scrap the entire tram project when they came to power in 2007.
The Scottish Government has not yet made a formal announcement on concessionary fares for trams, but current Transport Minister Keith Brown told MSPs last week that Strathclyde Partnership for Transport had already demanded that Glasgow’s subway should have the same treatment as the trams.
He said local authorities could introduce their own concessionary fares if they wanted and argued the cost of extending the national scheme would have to come from the money currently used for free bus fares.
Mr Scott, who was Transport Minister for two years until the SNP’s 2007 election victory, said: “There is no doubt their current attitude on this issue is influenced by their previous opposition to the trams.”
Soon after coming to power, the SNP – then a minority government – wanted to scrap the trams but was defeated by the combined forces of the opposition parties. Finance Secretary John Swinney said at the time he would hand over the £500m funding already earmarked but “not a penny more”.
Government spokesmen have continued to refer to this stance when the free fares issue is raised, although ministers have attended photocalls to mark the progress of the tram scheme and even said they want to make sure it is a success.
Mr Scott said: “It’s time the SNP government was either for or against the trams.
“We can all see the lines being installed and the trams sitting in the depot ready to run. If the Scottish capital is to move forward, they could do with the government being on their side.
“The SNP would love to have all the credit if the trams go well and wash their hands of the entire affair if something goes wrong, But governments can’t have it both ways.”
Council chiefs have pointed out inclusion in the concessionary fares scheme was integral to the business case for the trams, which was approved by government agency Transport Scotland.
Mr Scott said: “From the outset an assumption was made on concessionary travel. If the SNP thought that was wrong they should have said so in 2007 when they took office.”
A government spokesman said: “Officials are currently analysing information provided by the council and Lothian Buses as a basis for the implications of extending or not extending the concessionary travel scheme to include trams.
“We have always said that the decision would take into account wider developments regarding the scheme.”
£10m CONCESSIONS DEAL AGREED
FREE bus travel for pensioners and the disabled has been safeguarded in a £10 million deal announced by the Scottish Government.
Under the agreement, concessionary travel for those aged over 60 and the disabled will continue, but the amount of money the Government reimburses bus operators will be cut over the next two years.
The reimbursement rate – 67 per cent of a adult single fare – will fall to 60 per cent in 2013-14 and to 58.1 per cent in 2014-15. The announcement failed to include a commitment to extend concessionary arrangements to the Capital’s trams –the subject of the News’ Fare Deal For Over-60s campaign.
It was revealed last month that cuts in funding for concessionary fares would lead to the cost of a single journey on Lothian Buses rising from £1.40 to £1.50 from April to cover the difference.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said the reimbursement changes would provide the transport industry with much-needed stability.