Young Persons Free Bus Travel: “unnecessarily complex and confusing”

If you live in Scotland and are 5-21 years old you are eligible for a card giving you free bus travel from 31 January. Children under 5 years old already travel for free on buses and don’t need a card. Applications for cards opened on 10 January.

Previously issued cards will not allow access to the scheme. Many have found the application process “unnecessarily complex and confusing” prompting Orkney Constituency MSP, Liam McArthur, LibDem to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport.

Liam McArthur said:

“While there has been great fanfare around the scheme opening to applications, it is increasingly clear that the process is far from straightforward.

“Many constituents have been in touch to highlight their experience of applying, with most struggling for hours to complete the process.  The requirement for children as young as 5 to acquire new or replacement national entitlement cards, often leading to the need to acquire proof of age identification such as passports, seems entirely disproportionate.

“If the idea is to make bus travel as accessible as possible to young people, this seems to be a heavy-handed way of going about it. 

“It’s also regrettable that Ministers have chosen to exclude ferry travel.  Given that ferries function much like buses for many islanders, including ferry travel in this scheme would have been appropriate and provided more equal opportunities for young people in Orkney.

“I have written to the Cabinet Secretary to raise these concerns on behalf constituents and hope this will be taken into account in adapting the scheme.”

The Application Process

All children and young people aged 5-21 will need to apply for a new or replacement National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC) to access free bus travel. Previously issued cards will not allow you access to the scheme.

Children aged under 5 years do not need a card as they already travel for free on commercial bus services across Scotland.

The photograph on the card must look like you (if your NEC or Young Scot NEC includes a photo) to travel by bus for free.

What will I need to get a National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot NEC?

You will need to provide proof of person (your name and age), proof of residence (where you usually live) and a photograph if you are 11 years old or over.

Parents, guardians or (in some cases) carers will need to provide proofs of person and address for both themselves and their child, as well as proof of the relationship.

From Monday 24 January, the acceptable ‘proofs’ you can provide for the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme whether applying online or through offline application routes allow:

  • ‘out of date’ passports to be regarded as acceptable proof documents. The key criterion will be the physical likeness of the photo, with no timeframe restriction being applied to a passport expiry date
  • a suitable proof of residency type document with either current date or dated within the last 12 months will be accepted.

For children aged 5-15 years old, we also need to carry out some extra checks for child safety reasons. We need to be able to verify who the person making the application is, the child is, and know that they are authorised to act on behalf of that child.

When doing this, we need to make sure we comply with identity verification standards and protocols, and with standards required by the UK National Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS). Young Scot NECs carry the PASS logo and can be used as legal proof of age.

Transport Scotland

Find out what documents you can use to provide proof on the NEC website. If you are aged 5-15 years old, your parent/guardian/carer must apply for your NEC on your behalf. If you are aged 16-21 years old, you must apply by yourself.

How to Apply

You can either apply online at or (if your child’s school uses it) on If you’re applying online, you may find it useful, before starting the application process, to download or look out the documents as outlined on that you will need. You can apply using a smartphone/tablet or a computer depending on your preference, and if you don’t have scanned copies of your documents, you can take photos of your proofs during the application process using a smartphone/tablet. Alternatively you can apply directly with your local council. 

  • If you are aged 16-21 you must apply for a new NEC yourself
  • A parent or guardian must apply on behalf of 5–15 year olds and provide approval for them to travel for free by bus
  • Children under 5 years old do not need a card as they already travel for free on commercial bus services

To aid applications made through, videos have been made which walk you through the online application process step-by-step:

If you cannot apply online, there are many other ways to apply, please contact your local council.

In some local council areas, schools are coordinating applications on behalf of their pupils. Schools will contact parents or guardians and pupils directly if this arrangement is in place.

You should allow up to ten working days from the date your application was approved for your card to arrive. Please be patient – the current situation with the pandemic means that it might take longer to process applications.

Due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on staffing levels, some local councils may not be able to offer in-person applications at all times so please do check their website or call before setting off.

Which National Entitlement Card?

The type of National Entitlement Card you apply for and whether you need approval from a parent or guardian depends on your age.

For those aged 11+ it’s your choice whether you apply for the Young Scot NEC or a standard NEC. Remember that Young Scot offers discounts, rewards, membership and is PASS accredited, meaning you can use a Young Scot NEC as proof of age. Find out more at Young Scot’s website.

Read the scheme terms and conditions.

Transport Scotland: Young Persons’ (Under 22s) Free Bus Travel

Frequently Asked Questions

Young Scot: Young Scot National Entitlement Card

image credit Nick Morrison

Leave a Reply