Majority of politicians back free trams for over 60s
PRESSURE was mounting today on the Scottish Government to guarantee free travel for over-60s and disabled people on Edinburgh’s trams.
There is unanimous support from all parties on the city council for the move.
And a clear majority of Edinburgh’s MPs and MSPs have given their backing to the Evening News’ Fare Deal For Over-60s campaign to ensure the concessionary fares scheme which currently operates on buses is extended to the trams.
Transport convener Lesley Hinds said what was at stake was the ability of Edinburgh to operate an integrated transport system of buses and trams with joint ticketing.
The extension of the free fares which cover buses was an integral part of the business case for the tram project, which was approved by Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland.
If over-60s and disabled people are banned from using their passes, the council has calculated it will leave a £500,000 hole in the trams finances.
Councillor Hinds said: “The previous Scottish Executive and this Scottish Government have always given encouragement to the assumption that concessionary travel would be used on the trams.”
Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “It was always the intention to include trams in the bus passes. That’s what fully integrated transport is all about. If we don’t do that there is no way we can persuade people to get out of their cars and onto public transport.
“We are not talking about huge sums of money. This is a symbolic decision about whether we want integrated transport.”
The Scottish Government is understood to fear that extending free fares to Edinburgh’s trams would produce demands for the scheme to be spread further. But Ms Dugdale said: “Some people think that just because you had free travel on the trams you would have to have free travel on the Glasgow subway – but they are very different. The trams will eventually take buses off the road, but the same cannot be said of the subway.”
Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said she believed restrictions may be needed on the concessionary fares scheme overall – limiting free travel to off-peak or raising the qualifying age. But she said the system had to apply to both buses and trams.
“The argument makes sense – whatever applies to buses must apply to trams.”
Edinburgh Northern & Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said he had written to Transport Minister Keith Brown on the issue before Christmas, but had not yet received a reply.
He said: “I always assumed this was accepted by the Scottish Government, They have to support it – it doesn’t make any sense for an integrated transport system if they don’t.
“It’s unthinkable that trams could be treated differently from buses.”
The Evening News has been inundated with support for the Fare Deal For Over-60s campaign. Almost 350 people have now either written in or submitted vouchers backing the campaign since it was launched last week.
Campaign group Age Scotland is backing the call for free fares on trams. And 92-year-old former bus driver Tom Gilzean, who earned a CBE for collecting charity money on the Royal Mile, has thrown his weight behind the Evening News campaign. “I would never have been able to do my charity work without access to free travel,” he said.
Edinburgh Pentlands SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald, however, was one of a handful of city MSPs unwilling to back the News campaign. He said: “Individuals and organisations proposing the extension of the concession scheme to trams must identify what part of the Scottish Government’s budget has to be cut in order to maintain its fixed budget e.g. health, housing or higher education. If this funding issue can be resolved I would happily support the extension of the concession scheme to the trams.”
Transport Scotland said when the Scottish Government agreed to £500 million funding for the trams back in 2007, it had indicated no further subsidy would be provided once the network was commissioned.
“On concessionary travel, it reserved its position, which would be decided in due course in the light of wider developments on the national scheme. That remains the case,” said a spokesman.
“In December, officials obtained forecast passenger numbers from the city council. An initial assessment has been made of the potential costs of extending the scheme but more detailed work and information is needed before a final decision is taken.”
ALL parties on the city council are backing calls for the concessionary fare scheme, which gives older and disabled people free travel on the buses, to be extended to the trams when they start running.
And a majority of the Capital’s MPs and MSPs are also behind the Evening News Fare Deal for Over-60s campaign.
Labour transport convener Lesley Hinds: “Concessionary travel on the tram is vital to having an integrated transport system. If they are not willing to do this they should have told us years ago.”
SNP group leader Steve Cardownie: “If you are going to have an integrated system, it stands to reason the same conditions must apply.”
Lib Dem group leader Paul Edie: “We need to have integrated ticketing and a seamless service.”
Conservative group leader Cameron Rose: Wants the qualifying age for the scheme raised, but he says the same concessions should be available on trams and buses.
Nigel Bagshaw, Green group transport spokesman: “To suggest that older people should be penalised for using the tram is outrageous.”
Mark Lazarowicz, Labour MP, Edinburgh North & Leith: “If concessionary fares are not available on the trams, as well as being unfair, it would also make it harder to get an integrated ticket system”.
Alistair Darling, Labour MP, Edinburgh South West: “It would cause confusion if you could use your concessionary pass on the bus going to the airport but not on the tram.”
David McLetchie, Conservative MSP, Lothians: “I frankly don’t see the point if they are not the same.”
Mike Crockart, Lib Dem MP, Edinburgh West: “As the Capital moves towards integrated transport, it will be a necessity.”
Ian Murray, Labour MP, Edinburgh South: “I suspect the reason the Scottish Government is dragging its feet is it never agreed with the trams in the first place.”
Sheila Gilmore, Labour MP, Edinburgh East: “People in Edinburgh have put up with a lot to get the trams. If they can’t use their concessionary pass they will feel it has been a waste of time.”
Sarah Boyack, Labour MSP, Lothians: “Without extending the concessionary scheme to the trams, bus routes would need to be maintained, undermining the environmental and traffic congestion related benefits the trams will bring.”
Malcolm Chisholm, Labour MSP, Edinburgh Northern & Leith: “It was accepted as part of the business case, so it should still be accepted.”
Margo MacDonald, Independent MSP, Lothians: “What we want is straight-through ticketing and it doesn’t matter whether you jump on a tram or a bus.”
Kezia Dugdale, Labour MSP, Lothians,: “It would be an insult to taxpayers who have seen hundreds of millions of pounds going into the trams.”
Neil Findlay, Labour MSP, Lothians: “It would be completely unfair if elderly and disabled people were penalised.”
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP, Lothians: “It would make a mockery of the idea of a joined-up public transport system if the Scottish Government limited these socially important fares, and it would be unfair if bus and tram drivers ended up taking the flak from frustrated passengers.”
Age Scotland spokesman: “Whatever applies to buses should also apply to trams. I can’t imagine it will be oversubscribed by older people – the tram is just one route from the airport to the city centre – so I don’t think it will cost them much.”
Gordon MacDonald, SNP MSP, Edinburgh Pentlands: “Any extension of the concession scheme to the trams could have a detrimental affect on support for bus services in Edinburgh and beyond, unless additional funding is identified.”
Colin Keir, SNP MSP, Edinburgh Western: “If it has to be extended to the Glasgow subway, that will take a chunk out of the available pot of money and it will affect Lothian Buses.”
Jim Eadie, SNP MSP, Edinburgh Southern: “The priority for me is that nothing should be done to undermine arguably Europe’s best bus service.”
Kenny MacAskill, SNP MSP, Edinburgh Eastern
Marco Biagi, SNP MSP, Edinburgh Central
THE INS AND OUTS
Q How does the concessionary fare scheme work?
A The national concessionary travel scheme was introduced in 2006 and provides free bus travel across Scotland for older and disabled people and armed forces veterans. Bus companies are currently reimbursed at the rate of 67p per concessionary journey, though that is expected to be reduced. The Scottish Government budget for concessionary travel this year is £187m across the country.
Q Why should free fares apply to trams as well?
A The trams are intended to give Edinburgh an integrated transport system, complete with integrated ticketing. If people with passes are not allowed to use them on trams, there could be no joint ticketing, pass holders would carry on using buses, bus services due to be reduced would have to be maintained, perpetuating problems of congestion and undermining the purpose of the trams.
Q Should this not have been sorted out before?
A Many people thought it had been – the business case for the trams, approved by Transport Scotland, has always been based on the assumption that the concessionary scheme would be extended to the trams, but the Scottish Government has not yet confirmed it will be.
Q What about the money?
A The city council has calculated that Lothian Buses could expect to receive around £500,000 a year from the Scottish Government in payment for concessionary journeys on the trams. That’s based on the number of people they think will switch from the number 35 and 100 buses to trams, plus new passengers. But it is understood up to three-quarters of that amount would be former bus passengers – in other words, money which would go to the company anyway – so extending free fares to the trams would only cost the Scottish Government around £125,000.
Q Are there wider implications if free fares are extended?
A If the concessionary travel scheme is expanded to include trams, there are likely to be calls for it to be extended to the Glasgow subway – and some people fear pressure for it to cover train journeys and even ferries as well.
Q Does any of this risk damaging the city’s bus services?
A It could be argued that the biggest threat to Edinburgh’s prized bus services would come from a refusal by the Scottish Government to extend concessionary travel. If Lothian Buses is left with a significant hole in the finances of the trams, some fear it could be plugged by cuts in services or fare rises.
Q What fares will other passengers pay?
A No details have yet been published of tram fares, but the working assumption has been that the fares will be the same as for Lothian Buses. That would mean a flat rate for most journeys, expected to rise to £1.50 for a single adult ticket in the coming months. However, passengers travelling to and from the airport may have to pay a premium fare. The current Lothian Buses 100 Airlink bus service charges £3.50 for a single adult journey.