Free bus travel for young people under threat due to anti-social behaviour

The Scottish government’s scheme to provide free bus travel for under-22s could be withdrawn if the rise in anti-social behaviour on buses and in shopping centres continues, according to bus operators and local authorities.

Scheme launched in January 2023

The free bus travel scheme was launched in January 2023 as part of an SNP-Green budget deal in 2020. The scheme aims to reduce carbon emissions, increase social inclusion, and support the recovery of the bus industry after the Covid-19 pandemic.

About one million young people aged five to 21 are eligible for the scheme, which allows them to apply for a card that entitles them to free bus travel across Scotland. However, fewer than a third of those eligible have received their passes, according to Transport Scotland figures.

Rise in disorder and crime

Bus operators have noted a rise in anti-social behaviour on buses, such as vandalism, verbal abuse, and fare evasion. They have also reported an increase in crime and disorder in shopping complexes, as youngsters travel from further afield to cause trouble.

At a local area committee in Livingston this week, councillors claimed that the free bus pass scheme is fuelling anti-social behaviour in a local shopping complex, with police saying that youngsters are travelling to the centre from Edinburgh and Fife ‘intent to cause trouble’.

Free bus travel for young people under threat due to anti-social behaviour

In Prestonpans, East Lothian, residents have also complained about anti-social behaviour on buses and in the town centre, saying that children from adjacent areas are using the free bus pass to travel easily into the town and cause trouble.

Possible sanctions and solutions

Bus operators have warned that they may withdraw the free bus travel scheme if the situation does not improve. They have also called for more enforcement and education to tackle the problem.

Transport Scotland said that it is working with bus operators, local authorities, and the police to address the issue and ensure the safety and security of passengers and staff. It also said that it is considering introducing sanctions for those who abuse the scheme, such as suspending or revoking their free bus pass.

Some local authorities have also taken initiatives to encourage young people to use the scheme responsibly and to promote the benefits of bus travel. For example, Inverclyde has the highest uptake of the scheme in Scotland, with 79% of eligible young people signed up. The council has worked with schools to help pupils register for the scheme and to educate them about the environmental and social advantages of public transport.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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