Free fares for over-60s on Edinburgh trams could be scrapped in latest council cuts

Local authority could save £690,000 by ending funding

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 8:10 am

CONCESSIONARY fares on Edinburgh’s trams could be scrapped as part of the city council’s cost-cutting plans, the Evening News can reveal.

A proposal being discussed by the SNP and Labour groups who are in charge at the City Chambers says pulling council funding for the free travel available to over-60s would save £690,000 a year.

Concessionary fares on buses are paid for by the Scottish Government as part of a national scheme, but ministers refused to extend it to cover the trams, so the council picks up the bill and it only applies to Edinburgh residents.

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Concessionary fares on the buses are financed by the Scottish Government but the cost of free travel on trams is met by the city council

The proposal put forward by council officials says: “It is proposed the council cease funding this. It would then be up to Lothian Buses, Edinburgh Trams / Transport for Edinburgh or potentially the Scottish Government to fund concessionary fares.”

The document added that a Scottish Government consultation document on the concessionary fare scheme in August 2018 had raised the possibility of the scheme being extended from buses to include other forms of transport, including ferries, the Glasgow subway and Edinburgh trams.

But council insiders are sceptical that any other body is likely to take over responsibility for funding free tram fares.

The proposed withdrawal of concessionary fares would not take effect until 2021/22.

The council says if it ends its funding it will be up to Transport for Edinburgh or the Scottish Government to pay for concessionary fares

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It is one of several potential measures drawn up by council officials to help bridge the gap between Scottish Government funding and the demands on council services.

Because of the general election, a UK budget which had been due earlier this month is now not expected until the new year. That in turn delays the Scottish Government’s budget and casts doubt over whether the council will know how much central funding it is to receive by the time it has to agree its own budget in February.

However, council chiefs are currently assuming they will have to find savings of around £36m in the next financial year and discussions are already well under way among SNP and Labour councillors about the options.

Alasdair Rankin

It is understood the Labour group is opposed to scrapping free tram travel.

A Labour insider said: “Free access to the tram is a lifeline for many older people in Edinburgh. This plan may end that entitlement, and so risks isolating many vulnerable people at a time when we should be making accessing public transport easier and cheaper for everyone.”

Finance convener, SNP councillor Alasdair Rankin declined to comment on the possibility of scrapping concessionary tram fares.

He said: “What we will deliver as a coalition at the end of the day will be a package. If we comment on a specific proposal it may start people worrying about something which in the end we don’t do.

“My concern is that people start to get anxious about things which aren’t in our proposals or if the settlement turns out to be better than we hoped we wouldn’t do.”