Defending free bus travel

I have responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation survey on concessionary travel.

Questions on National Concessionary Travel Scheme

1. Do you think that we should retain the existing age eligibility criteria for the Scheme?

Yes

My answers in this consultation will largely reflect the argument that free public transport for as many people as possible – for everyone! – is an absolute good. Bringing people out of their cars, with a well-financed, integrated public transport system.

It brings with it health benefits, road wear and tear, helps Scotland achieve its climate targets, brings communities together, helps create jobs in tourism and is a potent anti-poverty measure.

In the same spirit that the NHS was created over half a century ago, we can come together to build a public transport system that works for everyone. We can tackle poverty and social exclusion by extending access across urban and rural Scotland; this will be a financial relief for workers, parents and carers on low incomes, and make it even easier for families to switch from road trips to more eco-friendly bus rides and train journeys.

So, I believe that we should not only retain the existing age eligibility, but it should be expanded.

2. Are you in favour of raising age eligibility to female State Pension age in one step?

No

The eligibility should only change in one direction – towards greater access to public transport, not less.

3a. Are you in favour of raising age eligibility to female State Pension age gradually over time?

No

You may wish to use the box below to provide comments on these or any other way in which you believe the long-term sustainability of concessionary travel could be achieved, as well as other comments you may wish to make for improvements to the scheme.

Fund free public transport – and start with expanding eligibility on bus travel, not cutting it.

We’re talking about a £9.5m cut in the 2017-18 draft budget. I would encourage the Scottish Government to instead scrap the air passenger duty reduction – according to independent research by the Common Weal – its purported benefits are highly questionable, and use the money saved on this tax cut to greatly expand access to Scotland’s bus network for an ever greater number of people.

3b. At what rate should age eligibility be raised?

It should not be raised at all.

Free bus travel for Modern Apprentices

4a. Are you in favour of providing free bus travel to Modern Apprentices?

Yes

4b. Should this be targeted at Modern Apprentices under Age 21?

No

4c. Is there a better way to provide support to help with the travel costs of Modern Apprentices?

Yes

Please explain your answers:

4a and b. Yes, we should expand free bus travel to all, and as an interim measure, to as many as possible.
4c. Equalise their take-home pay with other workers.

Companion cards for disabled children under age 5

5. Are you in favour of providing a companion card for disabled under 5s where this is needed?

Yes

Prior answers illustrate the aspiration – as many people as possible should travel on Scotland’s public transport for free.

Prior engagement and general issues not previously covered

Do you have any other comments about any of the issues raised in this consultation?

I advocate free public transport for Scotland – that is, extending concessionary travel on public transport to all. The only political organisation I see promoting this policy is the Scottish Socialist Party.

They have a good track record of winning others to good ideas. They championed free prescriptions in Holyrood and led the broad-based campaign to tackle poverty through free school meals. They pioneered many policies which were later taken up by the mainstream parties.

I would encourage Transport Scotland to commission research on the benefits and costs of achieving fare-free public transport.

You may wish to use the box below to provide comments on these or any other way in which you believe the long-term sustainability of concessionary travel could be achieved, as well as other comments you may wish to make for improvements to the scheme.

I also reject the “Options not presently favoured by the Scottish Government”.

Assessing Impact

Are there any likely impacts the proposals contained within this Consultation may have on particular groups of people, with reference to the ‘protected characteristics’ listed above?

I do not foresee any impacts in these areas.

Do you think the proposals contained within this Consultation may have any additional implications on the safety of children and young people?

No.

Do you think the proposals contained in this Consultation are likely to increase or reduce the costs and burdens placed on any sector?

The proposals in *this* consultation seem to be cost-neutral – and in line with the purported £9.5m cut in the transport budget.

However, the proposals for reducing age eligibility are wrong and it should not happen. We should expand provision wherever possible, not cut it.

This would increase costs in the transport budget, by removing fare revenue. But it would also reduce costs elsewhere, such as the toll of death, injury and damage, with financial savings to the NHS, business and insurance companies of hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

A reduction in road traffic could save millions of pounds annually in road maintenance and repair.

If fare-free access to buses were greatly expanded, it would also encourage takeup and use – promoting tourism and the economic boost from increasing the spending power of millions of workers throughout the economy.

Are there any likely impacts the proposals contained in this Consultation may have upon the privacy of individuals?

I do not foresee any privacy impacts.

Evaluation

How satisfied were you with this consultation?

Slightly dissatisfied

The comments in this consultation seem to be predicated on a particular outcome. There was little to no consideration on the wider aspects of public transport as a social good – only how much to cut it by.

The elderly population are finding it harder these days – with care services cuts. The ability to get around easily is also important in encouraging the older population to access leisure, fitness and to socialise – all of which promotes both good physical and mental health.

Additionally, the elderly population are big users of the public transport system. Usage reductions may have a knock on effect for all sectors of the population reliant on bus transport. Fewer bus users mean more claims by operators and Councils that services are unsustainable and more likely to be cut.

Public transport is a social need. It should always be framed as such – not merely costs to be cut.

How would you rate your satisfaction with using this platform (Citizen Space) to respond to this consultation?

Slightly satisfied

Citizen Space seems to respond well to accessible browsers. I have no comments to make in this regard.

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