The rollout of a new bus scheme offering free travel for everyone in Scotland under the age of 22 has been branded a “shambles” by Scottish Labour.
Anyone aged five to 21 can apply for the initiative, which is scheduled to begin on January 31.
But Scottish Government ministers are urging only people who need to travel for essential reasons to apply for the scheme at the moment due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
Neil Bibby, Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson, has now put a series of questions to transport minister Graeme Day about the scheme’s implementation.
He said: “The roll-out of the free bus pass should have been a good news story for young people but it has been beset with problems, from mixed messages on public health to a complicated application process.
“Every child and young person should have the chance to make the most of free bus travel. The new pass can help young people connect with the communities around them and access education, training or work. Young people shouldn’t face barriers to applying.
“Our young people should be trusted to use the bus pass safely and to make the most of their bus pass when Covid cases come down.”
The Scottish Government say early stages of the scheme will place a particular emphasis on children and young people who need to make essential journeys – as key workers or for education, health or care reasons.
Around a third of the population are already entitled to free bus travel through schemes for older and disabled people.
Transport minister Graeme Dey said last week: “The current phase of the pandemic means that we are encouraging people to stay at home as much as possible. But there are many essential reasons for children and young people to travel by bus and I am keen that they benefit from this scheme at the earliest opportunity.
“Therefore, we are asking that only those for whom bus travel is essential apply at this time. This will help to minimise pressure on local councils, also impacted by the pandemic, which will be processing applications and responding to queries.”
The Scottish Government says the full marketing launch of the scheme – which is set to benefit nearly a million young people – will take place at a later date given current public health guidance to reduce contact and mixing.
Dey added: “Public health must always come first. The approach we are taking will enable children, young people and families who will potentially benefit most from free bus travel to access it from the end of January.
“It will also ensure that when we are able to fully publicise the scheme, we can help bus services recover from the impacts of the pandemic and encourage children and young people to travel sustainably.”
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