BUS passes will continue to be made available to Scots aged 60 and above, with the free travel scheme also being extended to include carers of disabled youngsters under the age of five.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson also pledged ministers would consider the possibility of extending the scheme further to apprentices.
He announced there would be no change to the eligibility criteria for the National Concessionary Travel Scheme as he met bus industry leaders for the first time since taking over the transport brief at the end of June.
The Scottish Government had been consulting on the scheme’s future – with almost two-thirds of those who took part supporting plans to keep the age for a bus pass at 60.
Mr Matheson said the scheme is “of great benefit to its users and to the wider economy”, adding that as well as helping financially, “having a free bus pass helps people stay more active and preserves their independence, improving health and well-being”.
Extending the free passes to people travelling with a disabled child under the age of five could benefit more than 3,000 families, Government body Transport Scotland said.
Mr Matheson said: “The bus pass is a benefit that many people enjoy and use as part of their daily lives and I’m delighted that this Government will expand the scheme to include companions of eligible disabled children aged under five.
“The concessionary travel scheme enables independence, accessibility and social inclusivity. We have listened closely to the many respondents who feel that the free bus pass should remain available to all from the age of 60 and concluded that we should not change the age of eligibility.
“We will also continue to explore options to provide free bus travel for modern apprentices, while keeping the scheme under review and maintaining a balanced budget.
“At a time when we are investing and encouraging more people to use Scotland’s many excellent bus services, this Government will do all it can to ensure as many people as possible consider the many benefits of bus travel. The £250 million we spend every year on the bus pass and support for services is a substantial part of this effort.”
Kayleigh Thorpe, head of campaigns at the charity Enable Scotland, said: “We welcome the announcement extending the right to a companion bus pass to disabled children under the age of five. This is a change we called for in our response to the consultation.
“The cost of travel can prove a significant burden upon families who may already be under substantial financial pressure with the additional costs of raising a disabled child. We are delighted that families of disabled children can now access this support.”
Labour connectivity spokesman Colin Smyth welcomed the announcement “after months of uncertainty over the future of the bus pass”.
He described the introduction of the scheme as “one of many great achievements of Scottish Labour governments”, and added: “Labour also wants to see free bus travel extended to others including modern apprentices and companions travelling with disabled children.
“We therefore welcome the commitment to provide companion cards for disabled children under five, but it is disappointing the Government have simply said it will just work towards free bus travel for modern apprentices, but have failed to give a clear timescale. It is a year since they started consulting on this issue and should get on with it.”
Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Mike Rumbles said: “I am very happy indeed that this scheme designed by a Liberal Democrat minister in the coalition government is not going to be altered by the SNP.
“Encouraging all those over 60 to use the bus is a win, win situation. Individuals benefit, our transport system benefits but above all the environment wins as we continue to encourage people out of their cars and on to our buses.”
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