Concern over uptake among young people for free bus travel passes
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Less than half of young people in Aberdeenshire who are eligible for free bus travel still have not been issued with a pass, latest figures show.
Anyone aged under 22 is able to register for a card that allows unlimited travel on local bus routes.
But since its introduction in January, just 22,610 travel cards (44 per cent) have been issued in Aberdeenshire despite 51,400 young people being eligible. In Aberdeen 37,600 youngsters are eligible for passes but only 18,603 cards (49 per cent) have been given out.
North East MSP Liam Kerr described the Scottish Government’s rollout of the scheme as “abysmal” and said the application process is too complicated which is putting youngsters off from applying.
He said the take-up figures for the region and the rest of the country are humiliating for the Scottish Government and more needs to be done, particularly in schools, to get the message out to young people.
He said: “The Scottish Government’s botched handling of the scheme has been abysmal.
“Young people are clearly being put off from applying because too many obstacles have been put in their way by the complicated application process.
“The figures for the north-east make for extremely poor reading for the SNP-Green coalition and highlight that much more focus needs to be brought on our region to improve the uptake, particularly in schools.
“To make matters worse, the nationalists are refusing to pay out any compensation to those who are still having to pay fares while waiting for their card to be issued.
“They must get their act together to ensure those who need it most don’t miss out.”
Karen Adam, SNP MSP for Banff and Buchan, conceded that issues have arisen with the scheme but urged Mr Kerr to offer "constructive" advice.
Ms Adam said: "The introduction of free bus travel for under 22s has been game changing for many young people. This is a great way to encourage early habits of using public transport while ensuring young people have that connection socially, which can improve mental health outcomes. All with no cost to them.
"There have been issues noted, these have arisen as with many other schemes when first introduced. I would therefore urge Mr Kerr to be constructive instead of dismissive in helping to address these. I am happy to meet with him and his Conservative councillor colleagues who are in administration at Aberdeenshire council to help them address what can be done to simplify the process at their end.
"I would add that with many people facing a cost of living crisis, we need to ensure there is help on hand for everyday costs such as travel. I would urge Mr Kerr to focus on giving the support to constituents they so desperately need, and to lobby his colleagues at Westminster to tackle the impending disaster many are facing as we head to winter."