Subway and tram fares may rise after free travel scheme knockback

The companies expect to lose more than £3m as a result of young people choosing to use free bus travel instead.

Subway and tram fares may rise after free travel scheme knockback SNS Group via SNS Group
Fare increase: Warning as companies knocked back from free travel scheme for young people.

Fares on the Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams may rise after both were knocked back from being included on the free bus travel scheme for young people.

Both the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) and Transport for Edinburgh (TfE) expect to lose more than £3m each as a result of the Scottish Government giving free bus passes to people under the age of 22.

They jointly lobbied to be included in the scheme which will begin in January 2022.

SPT said it expects to lose £3m per year, predicting ticket revenue could drop by 15%.

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It warned the shortfall would need to be made up by increased central funding, service cuts or fare rises.

The transport body claimed ‘a large number’ of its two million passengers aged under 22 could take the bus over the Subway – with almost a fifth of Scottish students using its service currently.

TfE did not say whether services would be cut or fares increased as a result but predicted that in 2022, the body could lose £1.5m in the first year of the scheme, rising to more than £3m per year by 2023.

SPT chair Dr Martin Bartos said: “We strongly believe such schemes should be extended to cover travel on both Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams.

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“The Subway provides direct access to seven Scottish higher and further education institutions in Glasgow.

“That’s 108,000 students enrolled at institutions within the Subway catchment – nearly one fifth of all enrolments across Scotland.

“As well as leading to significant spikes in seating demand for short surface transport journeys – normally soaked up by Subway’s fast mass transit capacity – this government investment could paradoxically lead to SPT and its partner local authorities facing up to £3m losses per annum in revenue.

“I expect those losses would have to be made up from other public funds, service cuts or price rises.”

George Lowder, head of TfE, also warned more pressure was expected on the Edinburgh Tram network when the Newhaven extension was completed in mid-2023.

Mr Lowder said: “Our concerns relate to the loss of annual revenue in the region of £1.5m for the 11 months of 2022, an estimate that will grow in line with patronage recovery, coupled with the added pressure on the bus network if under 22 concessions are not available on trams.

“The financial impact of this will be further compounded when Edinburgh Trams begin operations on the completed line to Newhaven in mid-2023.

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“The annual revenue loss attributed to this policy is then expected to rise above £3m per annum.”

Adam McVey, the SNP leader of Edinburgh City Council, praised free bus travel for young people but called for the scheme to be expanded in Edinburgh and Glasgow to include trams and the Subway.

Mr McVey said: “Free bus travel for people under 22 is a fantastic policy and a huge achievement by the SNP in government, but there is a need in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, where tram and Subway are important parts of the transport network, to expand this policy.

“The analysis we’ve done shows the cost of doing this is unaffordable for us as a council trying to fund it alone.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said the local transport bodies could extend concessions if it wanted to make travel cheaper or free for young people.

The spokesperson said: “The new statutory nationwide scheme is for bus travel only, in the same way as the existing older and disabled persons free bus scheme.

“There are separate local concessionary schemes that are run by local authorities or regional transport partnerships that cover other modes of transport.

“Any decision to extend concessions to these modes rests with them.”