Cost of SNP’s flagship free bus travel scheme to rocket to £300 million

The Scottish Government launched their flagship free bus travel for under-22s initiative last year but it has been riddled with issues including claims it has led to more anti-social behaviour

By Lucy Ashton

The cost of the SNP’s flagship free bus travel scheme for under-22s is set to sky-rocket over the next two years and will cost the public purse almost £300 million.

A much-lauded project when it was announced last year, it allows young people across Scotland to travel across the country for free if they use a pass, similar to the over-60s one.

Issues were reported after it launched as the application process was described as too complicated leading to a low uptake for the first six months of the project.

Fewer than a third of those eligible signed-up for the scheme in May, four months after the initiative initially launched to great fanfare from the Scottish Government.

Now, over a year on from when it commenced on January 31, 2022, it can be revealed that the cost of the scheme will be £291,878,790 in total, with this expected to increase by £100 million each year.

Figures seen by the Scottish Daily Express show that the SNP-led government spent £102,378,600.88 on the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme between January 31 2022 and February 3 2023.

This was broken down to £97,166,918.69 of operator reimbursement costs and £5,211,682.19 of operational set-up and maintenance costs.

And this expense is expected to rise even further in the financial year 2023-24 where it will cost up to an estimated £189.5 million in claims.

When asked about how much it will cost beyond that, the Scottish Government responded: “The Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme is the first of its kind globally. Therefore there is not sufficient economic, demographic or travel pattern data to make such estimates.”

And it was revealed that Transport Scotland, who are operating the initiative, are yet to assess whether it has been a success or is even value for money despite the massive outlay that has been spent on it already.

Young people are missing out on free bus travel.
Young people are missing out on free bus travel. 

An official wrote: “Transport Scotland are undertaking an evaluation of the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme to assess whether the scheme is working as expected in achieving its objectives and benefits.

“A value-for-money assessment will be undertaken at a later stage of the evaluation programme, usually three years after the introduction of the scheme. This is to allow enough time for the benefits of the scheme to mature, and ensure an accurate and robust cost/benefit assessment.”

One figure which has improved is the amount of eligible young people who have signed up for the initiative with three fifths (62 per cent) of those able to receiving a card. This equals to 578,117 users of the initiative compared to an estimated 928,300 who are eligible.

However, there are still eight local authority areas where the uptake rate is less than 50 per cent. They are Clackmannanshire, the Western Isles, Dumfries and Galloway, Falkirk, Highlands, Moray, Orkney, Stirling and West Lothian.

Unruly teenagers using the bus passes to commit crimes has also been highlighted as a massive issue with the scheme. We previously told how a Glasgow community activist claimed that they were leading to a rise in crime in the city centre.

Alex O’Kane, who runs the No1Seems2Care campaign, said: “The free bus pass scheme is letting young people leave their uncomfortable homes to go out and explore places. Most people in the north of Glasgow live in an unfriendly environment.

“The bus pass lets them out of these unfriendly environments and gives them an escape. They can use the bus pass to get to the city centre for free wi-fi, ask for money to buy food or go there for entertainment to escape an uncomfortable home environment”.

But the Scottish Government rejected his claims and said there was “no evidence” of this. A similar issue was reported in the north-east of Scotland.

One comment

  1. £100 million a year money very well spent. Chicken feed by comparison to the benefits it delivers.

    The bus pass scheme is an absolutely fantastic scheme. Priorly the Senior Citizens travel card but now widened the card had the ability to get older people out and about. Not everyone drives, not everyone has a car, not everyone has money and that is more than true for many on a pension, this card got folks out and about. Good for their health, good for their mental well being, good for the economy the benefits are immense.

    But it doesn’t stop there. The bus pass is effectively a subsidy to bus operators. Just think around our area as an example. Fifteen minute services servicing the area, the housing schemes, just think if these services were not available. Some buses in the morning, maybe some at lunchtime, and buses in the evening peak. But bus passes support service. Every time a bus pass is used the bus operator gets a proportion of the fare. Without that proportion of the fare, the buses would not be viable. And so the bus pass is a way of benefiting senior citizens and now young people. And if the numbers go up, then the subsidy proportion drops.

    One and a half million senior citizens in Scotland with the opportunity to get out and about, meet people, interact, contribute to the economy, keep the bus services going for the nurse or carer who needs public transport to get to work, or the citizen needing to visit the doctor, the chemist, – what not to like and all for just less than £100 million a year?

    Mind you, if folks don’t like it, would prefer Tory policies instead, then lets just bin the scheme, and with it we can bin the NHS too.

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