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Free Inter-island Ferry Travel for Young People Under Consideration

The Scottish Government will give ‘serious consideration’ to introducing free inter island ferry travel to young people.

The Varagen Ferry
Image credit: Mike Robertson

The issue was raised during First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, 2nd November. During a debate which mainly focussed on travel in Mainland Scotland and the provision of free and cheaper travel, Orkney Constituency MSP, Liam McArthur, LibDem asked:

“For those living in the smaller isles in my constituency, ferries to and from the Orkney Mainland perform the same role as bus transport elsewhere in the country. Can the First Minister confirm that young islanders who rely on those lifeline routes will also be included in any future free ferry fares scheme?”

Humza Yousaf, FM of Scotland answered:

“I will, of course, consider the very important point that Liam McArthur raises. He raises the crucial point that those links are lifelines. They are important to young people on islands just as rail and bus services are on the mainland. We will give further details in due course, but that point will be given serious consideration.”

On 30th of October, the Scottish Government confirmed that the ferry scheme for young people will be extended to all island residents under the age of 22 for travel to mainland Scotland.

The scheme offers four free single (two return) ferry journeys a year to the mainland. At present it covers 16-18 year olds and eligible full time volunteers up to the age of 26. More people will be able to access ferry vouchers as a result of this change.

Minister for Transport Fiona Hyslop said:

“Ferries are an essential part of Scotland’s transport network, providing a vital lifeline for island residents. I’m pleased that more young people will soon be able to benefit from this initiative, saving them money during the cost crisis.”

For more information on the scheme visit Ferry concessions (transport.gov.scot).

From 1 October 2023 the scheme will start to use digital vouchers. Instead of receiving paper vouchers, vouchers will be digital and will be stored on the saltirecard:  National Entitlement Card, bus pass or (if you’re aged 16-18) the Young Scot card. The digital vouchers will have exactly the same as the paper vouchers did.

Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights Patrick Harvie said:

“This is great news for young people living in Scotland’s islands and complements our hugely popular scheme to give young people free access to bus travel.

“This is further action that will save young people money, remove cost barriers to transport and support more sustainable travel choices.”

Commenting after FMQs Liam McArthur said:

“What buses are to young people elsewhere in Scotland, ferries are to those living in the smaller isles in Orkney. Yet too often the needs of those reliant on these lifeline links are overlooked when it comes to the government’s transport policy.

“The extension of the ferry vouchers scheme to under-22s is welcome. Having accepted the principle, however, the First Minister must now ensure it applies fairly across the board, including for young people living in our smaller island communities.

“I am glad the First Minister accepts this as an important and crucial point, and that he plans to give the idea serious consideration. On the back of that response, I have now written to the Transport Minister seeking confirmation that Orkney’s lifeline internal routes will be covered by any extension of the free travel scheme for young people.”

Orkney Ferries, owned by Orkney Islands Council runs the inter island ferry fleet. Buses in Mainland Orkney are run by Stagecoach. Across Scotland since the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme was launched in January 2022, more than 62 million journeys have been made by over 620,000 young people.

Click on this link for more information about free travel for islanders: Concessionary travel

two inter island ferries and a masted sailing ship lined up in Kirkwall harbour on a very still day

Fiona Grahame

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