Edinburgh trams: Free fares for under-22s at risk after officials recommend scrapping scheme over cost
Free tram travel for people under 22 could face the axe after officials said the council could not afford it.
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The free fares for young people were introduced in January this year and up until August had cost £109,000. But officials forecast that with the opening of the tram extension to Newhaven scheduled for next spring, passenger numbers will increase and the cost of providing free travel for under-22s could soar.
A report to the transport and environment committee on Thursday says, looking ahead, an initial cost of around £25,000 per month could increase to £30,000 per month, resulting in a total allowance required of £304,000.
The Scottish Government meets the cost of free travel on buses for under-22s, as it does for over-60s and disabled people, but it has refused to do the same for any of these groups on Edinburgh’s trams or Glasgow’s subway.
Edinburgh council already pays the cost of free tram travel for Capital residents who are over 60 or disabled – with £500,000 earmarked for it in the budget – and adopted the same policy for under-22s when they also became entitled to free bus travel.
But with the council facing the need to make £63 million of cuts in next year’s budget, the report to committee says: “While recognising the challenges which applying different concessionary arrangements on bus and tram presents, council officers recommend not replicating the Scottish Government’s Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel scheme on Edinburgh Trams at this time.
"This conclusion is based on the current and future estimated costs of doing so in the context of the financial challenges faced by the council in 2022/23 and beyond.”
If the recommendation were to be accepted, free tram travel for under-22s would come to an end at the end of the financial year in March 2023.
But the city’s minority Labour administration has not endorsed the officers' proposal and says it is a matter which will be decided when next year's budget is set early in the new year.
Transport and environment convener Scott Arthur said: “The decision regarding continuing to support free travel on Edinburgh’s tram service for those under 22 years old will be a key part of the February 2023 cross-party budget discussions. I look forward to working with councillors of all parties on this, and other progressive policies.
“I remain disappointed, however, that the SNP/Green Government refuses to fund tram travel for under-22s and over-60s in the same way as it does for buses. This intransigence means that Edinburgh is being penalised for investing in a travel mode which is key to our aspiration to tackle climate change and cut congestion.”
A spokesperson for the Edinburgh Bus Users Group said: “The trams should be included fully in the national concessionary travel scheme. It would give pass-holders from across Scotland, not just Edinburgh, free travel on the trams, just as on buses – a proper national scheme, nationally funded.”