Emails back case for OAPs to travel free on trams

CORRESPONDENCE between council officials, Lothian Buses and Transport Scotland reveal a widespread acceptance that the national concessionary travel scheme giving free fares to over-60s and disabled people would be extended to Edinburgh’s trams.

A series of bombshell emails and memos dating back six years passed to the Evening News reveal there was a “verbal understanding” and a shared “expectation” concessionary fares would be extended to the trams.

Council chiefs insist they were always led to believe the concessionary scheme would include the trams on the same basis as buses. But Transport Minister Keith Brown has signalled the Scottish Government is set to rule the national scheme will not be extended to the trams and that any free fares will have to be financed by Edinburgh taxpayers.

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The Evening News is campaigning for the scheme to be extended to the Capital’s elderly and disabled – a stance supported by transport convener Lesley Hinds.

Councillor Hinds said the Government’s stance on the issue went contrary to everything the council had been told before. And she said there had never been the slightest hint that the council would have to organise its own concessionary scheme.

She said: “There is no letter, no email from Transport Scotland or the Scottish Government that suggests we should consider a scheme of our own.

“All the discussion is that trams would be included in the national scheme. That’s what we were being told all these years.”

In one memo seen by the Evening News, dated May 2008, Neil Renilson, then chief executive of Lothian Buses, notes: “I had a discussion with Stewart Stevenson [then Transport Minister] last month and he re-confirmed his expectation that tram will participate in SNCS [Scottish National Concessionary Scheme].”

Mr Renilson also referred to a statement by the Scottish Government that “our intention is to include Edinburgh Trams in the National Concessionary Fares Scheme”. In another email, dated September 2007, Graeme Bissett, who was working as a consultant for the council’s trams firm TIE, spoke of “the verbal understanding” that “concessionary support would be offered to tram passenger journeys concomitant with the support offered to bus passenger journeys such that there would be no discrimination between modes”.

And another memo, containing Transport Scotland’s comments on the business case, talked of ministers making changes to legislation so trams can be included in the scheme.

Transport Scotland today insisted there had been no commitment from officials.

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A spokeswoman said: “We have acknowledged the council’s expectation in their business case that the national concessionary travel scheme would apply. However, we have consistently reserved our position pending a review of the national scheme.”