Free tram travel for under-22s while bus route closures leave pensioners stranded isn't the best use of public money – John McLellan

Evidence may be anecdotal, but there are concerns amongst bus operators about free travel for under-22s encouraging anti-social behaviour, particularly at Livingston’s Almondvale shopping centre.
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If so, the scheme’s cost cannot be measured simply in lost revenue. But lost revenue is the only reliable measurement, and so it was interesting that in last week’s discussion at Edinburgh Council’s transport committee about continuing to fund free tram passes for under-22s, attention appeared to focus on administration costs, not surrendering income.

It has already been reported the scheme cost £109,000 between January and the start of August last year and is expected to reach over £300,000 a year once the tram completion to Newhaven goes live. Maybe this is small change for a line which will have cost over £1bn. But when bus routes like the 69 in Willowbrae are axed due to cost and lack of subsidy, is it really the best use of public money to write it off while pensioners find themselves isolated, just so young people who may well be working can get a free ride despite the alternative of free buses?

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The council’s director of place, Paul Lawrence, who was the council’s highest-paid official last year with a remuneration package of £199,077, told last week’s transport committee the cost wasn’t high because it didn’t need extra staff or trams, but that’s hardly the point when other transport needs are not being met. Looking after the pennies might be a hackneyed old saying, but when it comes to balancing need, it should be heeded.

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