South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has warned that local bus services would be “decimated” is the Scottish Government press ahead with plans to cut funding for the free bus pass for those over 60.
Colin Smyth is urging local residents to say no to bus pass cuts- by having their say in a Scottish Government consultation on the future of the bus pass.
Despite promising to protect the bus pass at the 2016 Scottish Parliament manifesto, the SNP Government has cut £9.5 million from the bus pass budget and are consulting on the future of the scheme. The First Minister and the Transport Minister have refused to rule out raising the qualifying age from 60 to 65.
Under the SNP, there has been a decade of decline in bus services with:
· Bus passenger journey numbers down by 78 million
· Nearly 70 million vehicle kilometres stripped out of the bus network
· The number of bus routes registered with the Traffic Commissioner down by a fifth.
Even more services for all users could be put at risk if there is a reduction in the number of people using the bus pass or further cuts to the budget for concessionary travel. National figures indicate that one-third of total bus usage is undertaken by free bus schemes members. In regions such as Dumfries and Galloway this rate is significantly higher ranging from 33% to 99% depending on the route, with an average usage of 66%.
Fears over the future of the bus pass are also echoed in a paper going before members of the South West of Scotland Transport Partnership (SWESTRANs) this Friday. The report recommends that members of SWESTRANS oppose plans to reduce the qualifying age from 60 to 65. According to the report, “usage of local bus services in our region by free bus scheme members is critical to their sustainability and the majority of services are fragile and at extreme risk to minor market changes. Therefore, a reduction in scheme members through any change in age eligibility that will lead to a reduction in trips will potentially have negative consequences for our local bus network.”
South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth said:
“The decision by the SNP to cut £9.5 million from the bus pass budget for this year and refuse to rule out raising the qualifying age from 60 to 65 for a pass, is deeply worrying. The SNP’s 2016 manifesto promised that the scheme would continue and said nothing about cutting it back. The SNP Government have no mandate for bus pass cuts. They need to understand spending on the bus pass represents a major investment in bus services in our area. Many services are running at a very fine line between being financially viable or not. If you reduce the number of people who can use the bus pass in our area, bus services will be decimated as the income for bus companies will simply not be enough to run many of those services. For many older people in our region, these services are a life line, preventing social isolation and supporting people on low-incomes working up to retirement”.
“Cuts to the bus pass will hit bus services at a time when passenger numbers are already plummeting. Over the past ten years, the number of passenger journeys has declined by 78 million and a fifth of bus routes been scrapped. Under the SNP, there has been a decade of decline in bus services and enough is enough”.
“I’m committed to fighting to protect the bus pass. But we need to go further and see an end to cuts to local councils, which reduce the funding available to transport agencies and we need new system of bus regulation that puts passengers before profit”.
“I would encourage all those who depend on bus services and value the bus pass to make their voice heard in the Scottish Government’s consultation.”
“Scottish Labour introduced concessionary travel for older people and disabled people in 2006 and 1.3 million people benefit from the free bus pass.”