BUS firms have warned fares may rise and lifeline services are under threat after SNP ministers slashed the budget for concessionary travel.
The pot of cash which pays for free pensioner bus passes topped £207.8 million this year but the draft budget published last week shows it is set to drop to £198.3m in 2017/18.
If the cut is carried out then bus firms have warned they will have no choice but to pass on the extra costs to passengers.
More than one million Scots have a free bus pass and the industry fear that many of the loss-making routes they rely on will be more vulnerable to the axe if the cuts are confirmed.
George Mair, Scotland Director for trade body the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), said: “The draft budget figure for concessionary travel appears markedly below the current projected cost of the scheme for next year.
“If this proves to be the case, bus operators will have no choice but to cut services or pass on the cost to fare-paying passengers.
“CPT hopes to meet with Transport Scotland this week for clarity on the Government’s position.”
Demand for free concessionary passes has soared since they were introduced in 2006.
More than 1.2 million people now have them and ministers last year rejected calls to raise the age of entitlement from 60 to 65 years amid fears the scheme is getting too expensive.
Scottish Labour Transport spokesman Neil Bibby said: “Concessionary travel for older people was a proud achievement of the last Labour-led government, but now the SNP is slashing funding to support this.
“At a time when our elderly population is growing, this is the wrong decision.
“People will rightly be concerned lifeline bus routes, particularly those in rural areas, will now be at risk and working-age passengers will face higher fares.
“It would be wrong for bus passengers to pay the price after Transport Minister Humza Yousaf finally managed to find money to support rail passengers following months of inaction.”
“Whether it’s cuts to social care, fuel poverty schemes or concessionary travel, it’s clear the SNP’s cuts will be damaging for Scotland’s older people.”
The Sunday Post has been highlighting the challenges facing the bus industry recently, as the number of journeys taken by bus in Scotland is down 15% since 2007.
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “Free travel through the National Entitlement Card will continue exactly as it does at present on local or Scottish long-distance buses for Scotland’s older and disabled people.
“The budget line reflects fares and journey numbers have risen by less than expected in the last two years.”
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