Applications are now open for a scheme offering free bus travel for everyone in Scotland under the age of 22.
The Scottish Government said on Monday that anyone aged five to 21 can apply for the initiative, which is scheduled to begin on January 31.
But 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.
Information on how to apply is available here.
A proposal for free travel for under-19s was lodged at Holyrood last January. Extending this to under-22s was part of the budget deal agreed several months later.
The 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: “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.
“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.”
The 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.
Sarah Gadsden, chief executive of the Improvement Service said: “We have been working closely with local government to ensure that the application process is as easy as possible for young people, parents and guardians and for council staff.
“Local councils, like many other public services, are impacted by the latest wave of COVID. By asking only those who make essential journeys by bus to apply at this time, it will help those most in need access vital public services. We look forward to everyone who is eligible applying when restrictions come to an end.”
Kirsten Urquhart, interim chief executive of Young Scot added: “We are excited about the positive impact that free bus travel will have on the lives of young people.
“The application stage is now open, allowing young people who need to travel by bus for essential reasons, to get a new or replacement National Entitlement Card or Young Scot National Entitlement Card. Once they have their new card, they’ll be able to travel by bus for free.”