Edinburgh trams: Free travel for under-22s and over-60s should be funded by Scottish Government, says Lothian Tory MSP

Officials have recommended Edinburgh council stops paying for under-22s on trams
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The Scottish Government is being urged to think again on its refusal to extend free travel on buses for under-22s and over-60s to cover Edinburgh’s trams as well.

The city council currently covers the cost of free fares for both groups after the government excluded the trams from its concessionary travel scheme, but with the council’s budget under severe pressure officials have recommended ending funding for free fares for under-22s on trams from April. The council’s transport committee has not accepted the recommendation but the full council will have to return to the issue when it sets the 2023/24 budget in February.

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Now, echoing the council’s stance, Lothian MSP Miles Briggs has called on the government to reconsider its position and fund free tram travel for under-22s and over-60s. He recently asked Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth about including the trams as part of the Young Persons’ (Under 22s) Free Bus Travel scheme. She replied there were currently no plans to extend the statutory free bus schemes to include Edinburgh Trams. But she added: “We are, however, undertaking a Fair Fares Review that will look at the range of discounts and concessionary schemes which are available on all modes.”

Free tram travel for under-22s and over-60s is currently funded by the city council.   Picture: Lisa Ferguson.Free tram travel for under-22s and over-60s is currently funded by the city council.   Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Free tram travel for under-22s and over-60s is currently funded by the city council. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

Mr Briggs said he was disappointed by her response and pointed out free tram travel for the under-22s and over-60s was included in the Tory manifesto for the local elections in May this year. He said extending free travel to trams would benefit people in Edinburgh by giving them more flexibility when using public transport. Figures released earlier this year showed that the national average uptake for free bus travel for under-22s and over-60s was 52 per cent. In Lothian, the average uptake was 56.1 per cent, with Edinburgh having the highest uptake at 73 per cent.

Mr Briggs said: “The deal on free fares for under-22s on buses does not include the trams or the Glasgow subway, but it’s only fair that Edinburgh and Glasgow get compensated for under-22s to have free travel on these networks too. I’m keen that young people who want to use the trams don’t lose out. Obviously it’s important for people who are seeking work to be able to get to where there are new jobs.”

He said he would now write to acting Finance Secretary John Swinney to ask him to look at the matter again. “They need to reconsider. Our two biggest cities have these specific services which are very much part of their public transport system and it seems an anomaly that people under-22 or over-60 get free fares paid for by the government if they travel by bus but not if they go by tram or subway.”

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And he noted the government – despite its original opposition to Edinburgh’s tram scheme – had recently endorsed the expansion of the network in its latest strategic transport plan. “If it’s going to develop and have the passenger numbers to enable it to do so that’s another reason why the need to encourage more people to use it. They’re not going to do that if they don’t extend these fare schemes.”