When it comes to bus travel, fare treat­ment will ben­e­fit all of us

The Scot­tish Govern­ment must give more sup­port to bus op­er­a­tors los­ing out due to free travel for the over-60s – for the sake of in­di­vid­u­als and the en­vi­ron­ment, says Mroy

The Scotsman - - Friends Of The Scotsman / Transport -

Ask the Scot­tish Govern­ment their strat­egy to re­verse the on­go­ing de­cline of lo­cal bus ser­vice pro­vi­sion and they point to the £53.5 mil­lion Bus Ser­vice Op­er­a­tors’ Grant scheme, which equates to roughly 14p per kilo­me­tre fuel re­bate on regis­tered jour­neys. In ad­di­tion, the Na­tional En­ti­tle­ment Card govern­ment sub­sidy is £202m per an­num.

How­ever, the un­in­tended con­se­quences of this spend­ing are ar­guably more im­por­tant than the in­tended ben­e­fits. No­body should be sur­prised at a govern­ment de­ci­sion to de­liver free bus travel for all over 60s, but to re­im­burse op­er­a­tors at only 56.9 per cent of the fare leads to op­er­a­tors cut­ting ser­vices across the coun­try. This is due to the re­sul­tant on-bus rev­enue fail­ing to meet the re­quired op­er­at­ing costs. Through this pol­icy, the govern­ment has been re­spon­si­ble for re­mov­ing co­pi­ous bus ser­vices across the coun­try and con­tribut­ing to the cur­rent cri­sis in the in­dus­try.

The Char­tered In­sti­tute of Lo­gis­tics and Trans­port (CILT) has long high­lighted the Govern­ment’s own re­search show­ing the cur­rent model of in­vest­ment needs to be changed to re­verse the on­go­ing de­cline of this es­sen­tial in­dus­try. Dif­fer­ent in­vest­ment is needed to help build a fu­ture bus in­dus­try that can form a crit­i­cal part of an in­te­grated trans­port sys­tem. Smart tick­ets, wifi and real-time in­for­ma­tion on all ser­vices need not be ex­pen­sive, but could make buses fit for the 21st cen­tury.

It is not ad­vo­cated here to re­move a trans­port con­ces­sion­ary scheme al­to­gether but rather to ac­cept the rec­om­men­da­tions for re­form of the scheme that have been re­peat­edly made in re­ports by trans­port pro­fes­sion­als to suc­ces­sive govern­ments. Govern­ment seems to have been spa­tially blind when talk­ing about a uni­ver­sal pol­icy, when in prac­tice the con­ces­sion­ary travel scheme has been highly tar­geted at those with the best ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

By mak­ing ben­e­fits avail­able to those with the great­est needs, the scheme would not just be­come more eq­ui­table, but also more sus­tain­able and af­ford­able.

Many of the sex­a­ge­nar­i­ans who voted in 2016 and were in pos­ses­sion of a “free bus pass” will use it to travel to work or for days out with longer trips across Scot­land. How­ever, in 20 years when these same peo­ple are and rely on lo­cal bus ser­vices to travel to es­sen­tial ser­vices, what level of help will be avail­able? Ex­perts have long ar­gued that cap­ping the ben­e­fit each in­di­vid­ual can re­ceive at a level that en­ables peo­ple to make es­sen­tial lo­cal jour­neys, com­bined with ad­min­is­tra­tion which pays fares for users rather than re­im­burses op­er­a­tors for ser­vices pro­vided, would stream­line the scheme and help the in­dus­try.

These changes will not nec­es­sar­ily be the most pop­u­lar with op­er­a­tors ex­tract­ing the great­est re­turns for share­hold­ers or with govern­ment’s seek­ing votes from more af­flu­ent peo­ple, but it is the role of pro­fes­sional bod­ies like CILT to en­cour­age bet­ter prac­tice by both politi­cians and op­er­a­tors.

Two key chal­lenges, par­tic­u­larly for older peo­ple, in to­day’s so­ci­ety are lone­li­ness, and vul­ner­a­bil­ity within the home from bo­gus work­men and scam phone calls. Iso­la­tion with no means of ac­cess­ing lo­cal trans­port and thus reg­u­larly con­nect­ing with the out­side world can only ex­ac­er­bate this sit­u­a­tion and ad­versely im­pact on men­tal and phys­i­cal health, as well as gen­eral well­be­ing. Fur­ther­more, bus pas­sen­ger spend­ing re­mains the lifeblood of many strug­gling high streets.

With­out changes to Govern­ment bus in­vest­ment the in­evitable on­go­ing demise of lo­cal bus ser­vices could have far reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions, and costs for pro­grammes seek­ing so­cial in­clu­sion, re­gen­er­a­tion and a fairer Scot­land.

A side ef­fect of the 56.9 per cent con­ces­sion­ary re­im­burse­ment rate is that the sin­gle adult fare is often in­flated by op­er­a­tors to make ser­vices vi­able, mak­ing bus use un­com­pet­i­tive with car travel for fare-pay­ing pas­sen­gers.

While many bus op­er­a­tors of­fer very good multi-jour­ney ticket schemes to tackle this prob­lem, high sin­gle bus fares still dis­cour­age modal shift for adults who could travel by bus 2 or 3 days a week. This is not a good fit for the Air Qual­ity agenda.

Lack of trans­port or the high cost of trans­port can also be a bar­rier to many in terms of ac­cess­ing work or fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion. As more com­mer­cial jour­neys are with­drawn, the is ooc to genar­i­ans

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