Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has secured confirmation from the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, that an island impact assessment will be carried out on the new free bus scheme before it comes into operation.
The Scottish Government announced the scheme, which will extend free bus travel to those living in Scotland who are under the age of 22, in their budget earlier this month.
However, given the importance of ferry travel for young people living in island communities, Mr McArthur lodged a parliamentary question to urge the Scottish Government to consider including the provision of free ferry travel for islanders in the scheme.
In response, Mr Wheelhouse agreed to carry out an island impact assessment on the proposals and added that they were “considering ferry fares policy options through our ongoing review of concessionary travel arrangements across all modes for under 26-year olds and through the Islands Connectivity Plan.”
Commenting, Mr McArthur said:
“The decision to provide free bus travel to those under the age of 22 is very welcome. It not only opens up more opportunities for young people but is also widening access to more sustainable forms of travel.
“However, there is a risk that the scheme in its current form will offer more benefits for young people living in mainland Scotland than those in Orkney and other island communities given that it doesn’t extend to free travel on ferries.
“On that basis, it would be reasonable to roll-out the same initiative on ferry travel so that young people in our islands can benefit from the same travel subsidy, and the opportunities it brings, as those living on mainland Scotland.
“I therefore welcome the Minister’s willingness to ensure an island impact assessment on the scheme is carried out, which should hopefully identify the need to include ferry travel in the revised concessionary scheme when it finally comes into force.”