CITY leaders have launched a major offensive to ensure elderly and disabled people will be able to travel for free on Edinburgh’s trams – in a move backed by an Evening News campaign.
The Scottish Government is thought not to be keen on extending free travel to the trams when they finally start running because there would be pressure to include Glasgow’s underground, and possibly ScotRail trains, as well.
But the News can reveal city council bosses are pressing ministers to guarantee the national concessionary fares scheme will apply to the trams, as it does to buses, in a move being backed by our Fare Deal For Over-60s campaign.
If bus passes were not accepted on trams it would throw plans for an integrated service and joint ticketing into chaos. Campaigners have warned it could also mean more buses continuing to operate alongside the trams, undermining the benefits of the scheme.
Phyllis Herriot, 86, a former councillor who campaigned long and hard to win free bus travel for pensioners, said concessionary fares were vital in ensuring older people could remain active in the community. She said: “Of course, older people should have the same choice to go on trams if that’s going taking them where they want to go.
“Some places will have both trams and buses, but others will just have buses or just have trams. It would be silly to back out of one part of the exercise.
“The important thing is to keep people on the move, coming out, enjoying life and keeping as healthy as possible. If it makes them healthier it’s saving everyone money.”
The business case for the £766 million tram project is based on an assumption that the passes could be used and that free travel for over-60s and disabled people would be funded by the Scottish Government. But ministers have not yet confirmed this.
Transport Minister Keith Brown is expected to make an announcement within weeks and city transport convener Lesley Hinds has written to all Edinburgh councillors, MPs and MSPs, urging them to lobby for the free fares to be extended to the trams. She said failure to extend concessionary fares to trams would leave a £500,000 hole in the finances of the much beleaguered and delayed project in the first year.
Councillor Hinds said: “The assumption, right from the start, has been that the concessionary travel scheme would apply to the trams and that was all part of the business case approved by Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government.
“If you want an integrated transport system, you have to make it easy for people to switch from bus to tram and from tram to bus. Integrated ticketing is crucial to that.
“People in Edinburgh have paid through their council tax and their taxes for the trams to get up and running and it would be wrong for a large proportion of the population not to be allowed to use their concessionary bus pass.”
She said she had raised the issue several times with Mr Brown and urged other city politicians to back the case.
She said: “This is about standing up for Edinburgh and integrated transport.”
It is understood the government fears that if it gives the go-ahead for free passes on trams, there could be a legal challenge from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, demanding that the concessionary scheme should also be extended to the Glasgow subway, and that ScotRail could even argue trains should be treated in the same way as the trams.
But Cllr Hinds said Glasgow was investing £40m in a fixed route Bus Rapid Transit scheme, which it had compared with the trams and would benefit from concessionary fares.
Paul Tetlaw, of campaign group Transform Scotland, has also written to Mr Brown, urging him to ensure passes can be used across the bus and tram network.
He said: “If for any reason passes are not permitted to be used on the trams I can imagine a situation where parallel bus services are being run, thus creating more traffic on the roads and adding to the cost of public transport provision.”
Transport Scotland confirmed a decision was expected “sooner rather than later”.
HOW THE SCHEME WORKS
THE concessionary fares scheme, introduced in 2006, gives free bus travel to people over 60, the disabled and armed forces veterans. Bus firms receive payments from the Scottish Government according to the number of free passengers they carry.
But talks are due to resume next week on proposals to reduce the amount which the bus operators can claim.
The companies claim that will mean a £15 million shortfall across Scotland, prompting fears of service cuts and fare increases. Lothian Buses is expected to raise its flat-rate single adult fare by 10p to £1.50 from April.
Transport industry sources have claimed that around a third of the over-60 passes are used by people still in work, but the Scottish Government has ruled out raising the qualifying age.
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