Scotland is now providing free bus travel for under 22s as part of a £500 million plan to improve infrastructure and tackle congestion. The scheme, which began in February 2022, will reduce inequality, respond to the climate crisis, and open new opportunities to young people.
Tackling problems new and old
As the cost of living soars across the United Kingdom and the global climate emergency deepens, Scotland are introducing countermeasures. Those aged under 22 are now able to travel free of charge across Scotland using the privatised bus services. Bus travel was already free for over 60s, meaning 2.3 million people in the nation of 5.5 million now benefit.
Following Margaret Thatcher’s deregulation of bus services in Scotland in 1985, high prices have driven people away from the mode of transport. Between 1985 and 2020, ridership dropped by 43%. Meanwhile, ticket prices increased by 159%. The Scottish government hope the new scheme will right some of the long-standing wrongs of Thatcher’s Conservative government.
Opening new opportunities to youngsters
The scheme does more than remove a restrictive financial barrier for young workers. While the United Kingdom as a whole is the 8th most densely populated nation in Europe, Scotland sits just ahead of Bulgaria in 38th place. A sparse population often means long journeys just to see friends and family, visit sports centres, libraries, or partake in leisure activities – particularly in rural areas. It is hoped that free travel will aid the return of a healthy social life to young Scots in the wake of pandemic induced social restrictions.
“We are committed to giving our young people the very best chances to succeed in life. The extension of free bus travel to all under 22s will improve access to education, leisure, and work, while supporting the adoption of sustainable travel behaviours early in their lives”, said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Free bus travel is also being made available to asylum seekers and refugees aged between 5 and 21. This is key to allowing asylum seekers, who receive only £40.85 per week, access to vital institutions.
Working towards net-zero
The Scottish government are pursuing a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goal than their UK neighbours. Scotland has set a legally-binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045. This is five years ahead of the date set for the UK as a whole. The Scottish National Party and Green Party coalition hope that their new incentive to ditch car travel will help make this target a reality.
“Increasing bus use will help us to achieve our world-leading goal of reducing the number of kilometres travelled by car by 20 per cent by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2045. It will also support local bus services to recover, as we all emerge from the most recent COVID-19 restrictions”, states The Scottish Minister for Transport, Jenny Gilruth.
Compared to travel by car, travel by public transport produces far fewer quantities of air pollutants. That means less carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, per passenger-mile. Building on this, the Scottish government plan to remove most fossil fuel buses from public transport by 2023. They will invest £120 million in zero emission buses, aiming for full decarbonisation.
Improved public transport is widely highlighted as a key component of greener societies. If the world is to meet crucial climate goals and avoid further degradation, more nations will have to follow suit.