Free bus travel for the young could transform it for all - Alastair Dalton

The humble bus is the Cinderella service of Scottish transport, but the one that more people depend on than any other.

But compared to years gone by, it has not become a natural travel choice for many children as they grow up, having been ferried about in cars by parents who themselves may be none the wiser about how to use the bus.

We can’t rely on electric cars to get around in the future in the towns and cities where most Scots live.

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That might solve much of the emissions problem, but not those of personal fitness, road safety – or congestion.

Free bus travel will be extended beyond the originally-planned under-19s to everyone under 22. Picture: Donald Stirling

Traffic-clogged roads are killing buses, making them run late and unreliably so they become an unattractive option.

Some passengers have even switched to bikes.

However, a turning point could come with the Scottish Government’s announcement of the start date next January of free bus travel for young adults.

Under the SNP’s original plans, it would have covered 16 to 18-year-olds, but thanks to a deal struck with the Greens to get the Scottish Budget through, it will now extend to everyone under 22.

If successful, the initiative could be a game changer in significantly altering travel habits, which could be passed on to the next generation.

The move also has the potential to rejuvenate the bus industry itself, with more passengers leading to a virtuous circle of expanded services in turn attracting increased custom that also justifies greater bus priority measures over other vehicles to boost punctuality.

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Free bus travel for under-22s across Scotland to start in January

Buses have changed remarkably since the bad old days when some people last clambered aboard, where there was scant information about where you were going and you took your life in your hands if forced to find a seat on the smoked-filled upper deck.

Nowadays, there’s contactless payment, air conditioning, electronic journey information screens and free wifi on many buses – and in six months’ time that will all be free for nearly another 1 million Scots.

That will provide a major boost for their job and educational opportunities, but could also be a catalyst to a better service to benefit everyone.

Tomorrow’s mass transit could again be the omnibus.

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