Edinburgh council faces £500k a year bill to extend free under-19 bus travel to cover trams as well

Council chiefs face a bill of £500,000 a year to cover free tram fares for under-19s because the Scottish Government won't extend its concessionary bus travel for young people to the Capital's tramline.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 7:00 am

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The council already pays around £700,000 a year to ensure Edinburgh residents over 60 can enjoy the free travel on trams as they do on buses.

And councillors are now being asked to consider using extra funding received since the budget was set to do likewise for under-19s.

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A tram on Princes Street - the council has to bear the cost of concessionary fares Pic: Alistair Linford

When the trams were first introduced, all parties on the council backed calls for the government to apply its concessionary fare scheme to the trams – it was an integral part of the business case for the project – but ministers insisted they could not afford it. Critics claimed the refusal stemmed from the failed attempt by the SNP to scrap the trams when it was first in power at Holyrood.

The Scottish Government announced plans to roll out free bus travel for under-19s in January this year, but since then the budget deal between the Greens and the SNP has extended the free fares to under-22s, which means an even bigger bill looms for the council when that is implemented.

A report to the finance committee on Friday says: “A calculation has been made on the potential impact should Edinburgh decide to offer free travel by tram to those under 19, with the estimated cost being circa £500,000. An exercise is now underway to establish the estimated cost for providing free travel for people aged under 22.

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York Place tram stop Pic: Lisa Ferguson

“Should the council be required to reimburse Edinburgh Trams for this concessionary travel, these costs cannot be met from the Place budget. It is therefore requested that funding be set aside to meet these costs, if required, in 2021/22 and 2022/23 and that arrangements are put in place to meet these costs on an on-going basis from 2023/24.”

Labour councillor Scott Arthur said an integrated transport system was key to Edinburgh meeting its climate change obligations.

But he said: “The dodgy SNP/Green deal to exclude Edinburgh’s Tram from their plan to offer free public transport to those under 22 is a slap in the face to young people here and those of us that are passionate about tackling the climate crisis. I’ve no doubt that Edinburgh’s Green and SNP councillors won’t want to embarrass their bosses in Holyrood, but Edinburgh can’t be expected to cut more services to make good this injustice. It’s time they put Edinburgh first and demanded fair funding for our Capital.”

City finance convener Rob Munn said: “It has been an extremely challenging year, where we have experienced unprecedented pressures as a result of the COVID pandemic. Therefore, we are pleased to be able to invest further in some of the city’s key services and priorities, over and above the balanced budget we set in February.”

Vice-convener Joan Griffiths said: “We look forward to a constructive debate with fellow members in the coming weeks in order to direct this funding in line with our core priorities of tackling poverty, boosting sustainability and enhancing wellbeing.”

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