Flat fare bus trial announced by Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop

Free ferry trips for some under 22s but non-islander drivers face big increases

A flat fare for bus trips is to be trialled in Scotland following a review of the cost of public transport triggered by the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens.

It also recommended under 22s would get free inter-island foot passengers travel in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland, and 18 to 21-year-old islanders added to the National Ferry Concessionary Scheme for four free single trips to or from the mainland a year.

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But past cuts of up to 40 per cent on ferry fares under the Road Equivalent Tariff scheme since 2015 may be scrapped for non-residents, as The Scotsman revealed in February.

A flat fare trial is planned for an area of Scotland. (Photo by FirstGroup)A flat fare trial is planned for an area of Scotland. (Photo by FirstGroup)
A flat fare trial is planned for an area of Scotland. (Photo by FirstGroup)

The Fair Fares review, launched in 2021 under the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and Greens, also includes a pilot scheme to extend free rail travel to the companions of eligible blind people.

The flat bus fares plan, which would be tried in an as-yet undisclosed part of Scotland, marks a change of policy after ministers previously focused on free travel for the over 60s and under 22s.

A £2 cap on thousands of bus journeys in England was introduced last year and has been extended to December. Lothian, Edinburgh’s main bus operator, has £2 flat single fares across the city.

The Fair Fares report stated: “We will develop a proposal for a bus flat fares pilot for an area-based scheme to provide flat fares on bus travel, or reduced fares on zonal integrated travel for consideration in future budgets.”

Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The recommendations and actions set out today will help us to ensure we have an available, affordable and accessible public transport system which enables people to make positive and proactive travel choices which result in using their cars less.

Sustainable transport campaigners Transform Scotland said the report had failed to set out how ministers planned to curb car use to meet their target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2030.

Director Colin Howden said: “We’re pleased the [Scottish] Government has agreed with us that action needs to be taken to address the cost of motoring relative to the price of public transport.

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"Over the last two decades, public transport costs have not only risen relative to costs of driving, but considerably above the rate of inflation.

“These price signals have encouraged people to drive and discouraged them from taking public transport.

"We see no prospect of transformational change unless and until it’s clearly cheaper to take public transport rather than use private cars.

But it’s disappointing the review doesn’t set out how this will be tackled, instead kicking the can down the road to the traffic reduction plan, which is itself badly overdue."

Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said: “This is a real disappointment. The SNP had the opportunity to announce some immediate actions that could make a real difference bit instead and as usual, everything is kicked down the road.

“There are no promises of anything - it is damp squib.”

Scottish Greens transport spokesperson Mark Ruskell said: “A trial fares cap on buses will give the Government the evidence to consider bigger changes for all passengers.”

Scott Arthur, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Labour transport convener, said the city was being “short changed yet again” by free under-22s bus travel not being extended to its trams. The review rejected this – and the same on the Glasgow Subway – because the cities had a “strong” bus systems.

But Mr Arthur said: “This decision comes on the back of the Scottish Government ‘pausing’ investment in bus priority measures – a monumental folly."



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