Pensioners may be denied free travel on trams

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ELDERLY people may have to pay to use Edinburgh's trams despite previous assurances that the scheme that offers pensioners free bus travel around the country would include the city's flagship new transport project.

• The new Edinburgh tram. Picture: Complimentary

Council leaders have admitted they do not yet know whether the 545 million project will become part of the Scottish Government's concessionary fares scheme when the trams are ready to run.

The council's tram company, TIE, has failed to reach agreement over its inclusion despite a pledge by the previous administration at Holyrood.

The government spends more than 180m a year to partly reimburse bus operators who lose out when elderly people travel on their services. The squeeze on public spending means ministers are likely to try to reduce that burden.

Council leader Jenny Dawe has admitted there are ongoing "legal issues" over the possible inclusion of the trams in the scheme, which has triggered a bid by Strathclyde Passenger Transport to have Glasgow's underground also included.

SPT officials warn they are keeping "a close eye on the situation" and said they would be demanding parity for its subway, and possibly ferries.

The former Labour administration pledged to include the trams in the concessionary fares scheme in March 2007 – just months before the project was plunged into chaos when the SNP won the election and threatened to scrap it. The scheme was only given the go-ahead after opposition parties joined forces.

The tram company has long believed the scheme should be included as it will replace a number of bus services. But insiders at TIE say the Scottish Government now fears it will open "a can of worms" and a flurry of demands from local authorities. A source said: "SPT is making growing noises about this again and it risks becoming a major political issue for the government to try to sort out."

A spokeswoman for TIE said: "Our business case works on the assumption that concessionary fares will operate across the integrated public transport system for Lothian Buses and the tram."

An SPT spokeswoman said: "We are keen to see the subway treated in the same way for concession purposes as the Edinburgh tram system. We are keeping a close eye on the situation regarding the possible extension of the scheme to include trams. If this is approved we would expect the subway also be considered."

A spokesman for the government said: "A decision on whether to extend the scheme to the tram network will be made nearer the project's conclusion."