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Scottish Labour attack ‘pitiful progress’ of flagship free bus pass scheme

A Stagecoach bus departs Edinburgh bus station (PA)
A Stagecoach bus departs Edinburgh bus station (PA)

Almost six in 10 young Scots are still without their free bus pass, Scottish Labour have said, six months after the flagship scheme was launched.

Across Scotland 413,909 youngsters have signed up to the scheme, the party said, but with 986,600 eligible for free travel it meant just 42% of those aged five to 21 have signed up.

Neil Bibby, Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman, said: “People are still facing too many barriers applying and the hard truth is in huge parts of Scotland there simply aren’t enough buses for the pass to be of much use.”

The MSP added: “If this was an exam, the SNP would have failed it.”

The scheme opened to applications in January, and Transport Scotland said since the programme launched more than 15 million journeys have been made.

In May, Scottish Labour said that just three out of 10 youngsters had collected their pass but the numbers taking up the card have improved since then.

Mr Bibby welcomed the rise but said it was “pitiful progress half a year into this flagship scheme”.

“While the SNP and the Greens are busy congratulating themselves on a job half done, most young people still don’t have their pass this summer,” the politician said.

“The school holidays would’ve been the perfect time for young people to make use of their pass to go and explore Scotland and meet up with friends.”

When the pass was launched, ministers said it would make transport more affordable for youngsters across Scotland, and active travel minister Patrick Harvie hailed it as an “exciting moment for sustainable travel”.

Under the latest figures obtained by Scottish Labour some areas have struggled to get more than a third signing up.

South Ayrshire has had just 27% sign up while Dumfries and Galloway has had 30%, and Stirling 31%.

Meanwhile, Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, has had 42% sign up while Edinburgh has seen 60% get a pass.

Mr Bibby pointed to Labour-run Inverclyde, which has seen 77% sign up, and said they had “led the way streamlining the application process”.

“The Scottish Government must support other areas to follow suit so we can end the postcode lottery,” he said.

“It is time for the SNP-Green government to drop the spin and focus on delivering on this years-old promise so that no more children and young people miss out.”

To be eligible for the travel scheme, under-22s must get a National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot NEC to do so.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We continue to work closely with the Improvement Service, which is ultimately responsible for the NEC scheme, and who continue to make improvements to seek to make it easier to apply while maintaining the integrity of the child safety measures put in place.

“The Minister for Transport recently wrote to all local authorities asking them to provide assurance that they have put in place suitable processes to allow children, young people and parents/guardians to apply offline through local council services, and to identify whether additional support is required to achieve this.

“In February, we launched the Transport Scot Pass Collect app which lets people aged 16-21 collect free bus travel on to their existing NEC or Young Scot NEC, without having to apply for a replacement.”