The Orkney News reported on Friday 3rd of August:- 3,000 Families to Benefit From Extension of Free Bus Pass which included the announcement by the Scottish Government that the age for concessionary travel is to remain at 60+.
The Orkney News has been trying to determine whether or not the scheme has been subjected to ‘Island Proofing‘. The Islands Act means that all legislation must be Island Proofed to ensure that we on the islands are not adversely affected by it. OIC News: Islands Bill Becomes Law
We asked for a comment from Michael Matheson the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity in the Scottish Government. We particularly referenced Island Proofing and if this had been done.
We have received a response from a Transport spokesperson.
“The National Concessionary Travel Scheme provides free travel by ferry to the mainland for two return journeys each year for Island residents.
“In addition, local authorities have powers to make concessions on transport modes other than bus, and these can be made to meet local needs and priorities, including ferries.”
You will note that it does not comment on Island Proofing.
In the consultation prior to the scheme being extended there were 8 responses which specifically mentioned Orkney.
An individual commented:
“With the concept of ‘island proofing’ in mind, therefore, I would expect any future approach to concessionary travel to reflect the unique needs of island communities. This must, of course, incorporate the use of ferry travel, which for many of my constituents, represent a ‘bus service’ of sorts. At present, any concessionary fare scheme on island internal ferry services is at the discretion of and funded by island councils. As the government will appreciate, this limits its scope and, I would argue, means that many people living in Orkney and Shetland, particularly those living and working on the smaller isles, are unable to take advantage of the government’s concessionary fares scheme to anything like the extent of their counterparts on the Scottish mainland.”
“In the case of island areas the only means of travel for access to health or other community facilities can be by ferry, where any limited concession they receive is funded locally by the Council. There should be recognition of the inadequacies of public transport in rural areas and the role played by community transport and ferries as often being the only option available to National Entitlement Card holders for travel but these are excluded from the scheme.”
” Fairer treatment of ferry passengers to reflect their function as equivalent to a bus. Across Scotland there is a combination of local ferry services and Mainland ferry services. The former connect typically smaller isles to their nearest service centre, for example, the connections between the isles in Orkney and the Orkney Mainland.
“Consideration should be given to extending this entitlement to cover all ferry services in Scotland, in response to a recognition that these ferry services provide an equivalent function to local bus services and long distance coach services. This would also give the opportunity to unify the concessions that apply across all ferry services, so residents in all areas of Scotland with ferry services are afforded the same concessions, as is the case with bus/coach services. Different ferry services function for different reasons, ranging from local access to jobs, shopping, healthcare etc., which will tend to generate a high frequency of travel, to connections which are made less frequently, perhaps 2-6 times per annum to visit friends and families, go on holiday etc. Clearly there is a need for further work in determining what would be an appropriate level and rate of concession for ferry services, but the examples of what local authorities already provide offer a useful starting point.”
Orkney Islands Council responded:
“Orkney Islands Council currently subsidise local concessionary travel on internal air and ferry services from outer island elderly (aged 65+) and disabled people, providing 24 single trips per year. A community transport scheme for mainland residents provides one free trip per week on accessible transport. The local concessionary travel scheme for elderly and disabled residents, costs the Council, £120k per year (2016/17) although continuing this scheme is now challenging in this current financial climate. Given the internal ferry and air services for outlying island residents are the only method of travel, consideration should be given to extending the Scottish government concessionary travel scheme to internal air and ferry services.
“Increasing the entitlement age from 60 to 65 incrementally by one year per year was applied to the Orkney local concessionary travel scheme in 2011 with no complaint from residents (scheme for island residents providing 24 x trips on internal ferry services or air services if residing in Papa Westray or North Ronaldsay).
“Providing free, unlimited bus travel to elderly and disabled in this current economic climate could be seen as a luxury, particularly for those on low incomes and minimum wage, in receipt of no discounted travel. The internal air services local concessionary travel scheme provided in Orkney is administered via the National entitlement Card, applying a cap on journeys so the mechanism to cap travel is already in place. Alternatively, passengers paying 50% of fare compared with free unlimited would be easy to administer and would mean the removal of concessionary claims from bus operators to Transport Scotland.”
You can view all the responses here: Published Responses
Both HITRANS and Orkney Islands Council wished to see the age for concessionary travel raised from the current 60+ but were in favour of the concessionary scheme being introduced for those on apprenticeships.
Transport Scotland added the following information:
Community buses which are registered with the Traffic Commissioner under section 22 of the Transport Act 1985 are part of the National Concessionary Travel Scheme, and operators can claim reimbursement for journeys made using the National Entitlement Card.
Inter-island ferries within Orkney are operated by the local authority and they have full control over fares and concessionary schemes on those services.
The Analysis of Responses by Transport Scotland to the consultation shows no evidence of it being subject to Island Proofing.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame