Edinburgh's 'free' trams could cost city council £1.5 million

Edinburgh taxpayers will shoulder a £1.5 million ‘burden’ if the Government does not cover the cost of free tram travel for youngsters, officials have warned.
Edinburgh trams bill could see council tax payers hit with extra £1.5m in costs.Edinburgh trams bill could see council tax payers hit with extra £1.5m in costs.
Edinburgh trams bill could see council tax payers hit with extra £1.5m in costs.

Under-22 year-olds will be entitled to ride buses free of charge from January 31 next year as part of a nationwide concessionary scheme being rolled out by the Scottish Government.

However, light rail — which includes the capital’s trams and Glasgow’s subway — has not been covered by funding set aside by ministers.

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Despite this, Edinburgh City Council is expected to waive tram fares for all under 22s from early next year — and has set aside £500,ooo to do so.

Costs warning: Edinburgh Trams chief George LowderCosts warning: Edinburgh Trams chief George Lowder
Costs warning: Edinburgh Trams chief George Lowder

The local authority already pays for free tram travel for over 60s and disabled saltire card holders living in Edinburgh.

Transport for Edinburgh boss George Lowder said it was estimated Edinburgh Trams will lose around £1.5 million a year if no Government funding is secured to support the inclusion of trams in the new scheme.

He said: “We would then fall back on the £500.000 in the budget and given that although the transport ALEO operating year is a calendar year and not a financial year, the £500.000 in financial year 2021/22 will cover, we expect, the cost incurred by Edinburgh Trams in quarter one of their next operating year in 2022.

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“Our modelling suggests that the impact of the under 22 concession on Edinburgh Trams would be in the region of £1.5 million per annum in terms of lost revenue and if that’s reimbursed at £500,000 or the lot then that will have an impact on the profitability of the company going forward.”

Mr Lowder added the financial impact would grow once the network’s extension through Leith and Newhaven opens in 2023.

Green councillor Alex Staniforth has warned Edinburgh will “shoulder the burden” for youngsters’ tram fares if the concessionary scheme’s extension is included in the upcoming council budget and the Government refuses to foot the bill.

And he is urging the council to follow Glasgow’s example and write to Transport Scotland and finance secretary Kate Forbes asking for trams to be included in funding for all national free public transport schemes that apply to buses.

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