Sunday, July 3, 2022
NewsGovernment row over ‘confusing’ application process to free bus scheme

Government row over ‘confusing’ application process to free bus scheme

A SCHEME to give Scots youngsters free bus travel has been criticised as confusing and difficult to join.

The Scottish Government introduced free buses for under-22s yesterday as part of its environmental agenda.

At least £50m has been made available to encourage as many as a million young Scots to take buses while saving hundreds of pounds a year.

But the Free Bus Travel for Under-22s scheme has been condemned by opposition politicians as over-complicated.

people waiting at stop
Young scots can now travel for free on any bus across the country, if they can figure out the application process. Photo by Sandy Ravaloniaina on unsplash.

They claim that the application process is long and confusing – not least because a biometric face scan is required.

To access the free travel young people must apply for a new National Entitlement Card (NEC) which replaces the existing Young Scot Card.

The multi-page application involves numerous uploads and has taken some applicants hours to complete.

Neil Bibby, Labour MSP, has written a letter to the Transport Secretary regarding the reported problems with the application process.

In the letter, Bibby states: “The Scottish Government’s mixed messages over when to apply and difficulties reported by parents and young people about how to apply could discourage applications.

“This means that young people will miss out on their new entitlement to free bus travel. That is simply not acceptable.”

Bibby isn’t the only MSP who had issues reported to him about the application process by constituents.

Liam McArthur, Lib Dem MSP, also wrote a letter to the transport secretary about the lengthy and confusing application process.

He stated: “Many constituents have been in touch highlighting their experience of applying, with most struggling for hours to complete the process.

“The requirement for children as young as five to acquire new or replacement national entitlement cards, often leading to the need to acquire proof of age identification seems entirely disproportionate.”

All applications are handled by local authorities with support from the NEC programme office, in some areas schools are coordinating applications on behalf of their students.

Part-time college student Scott McKee, 20, from Haddington, East Lothian, travels regularly on buses for work.

He said: “I find it somewhat concerning that they’re asking for biometrics of your face just to use free busses.”

Scott, who stands to save £20 a week, added that “what I’ve heard about the process has discouraged me from applying so far”.

The scheme was introduced following lobbying by the Scottish Greens, who defended the policy.

Mark Ruskell, the party’s transport spokesperson, said: “I’m disappointed to see the Lib Dems focus on scaring people off rather than encouraging them to apply.

“The application process needn’t be complex. If a young person doesn’t have photo ID then they can get help from their council or school.”

He added: “As Covid travel restrictions lift more young people will be able to get onboard and enjoy the opportunity of free travel.

“This is not only transformational in terms of family budgets and opening up opportunities for young people, it can help lower car use, tackling the climate emergency.”

Transport Scotland said: “The process for applying for a national entitlement card (NEC) has to make sure applicants are eligible and meet standard identity checks.

“We appreciate that it can seem complicated but tens of thousands of young people have already applied and many have their cards in their hands ready to use on 31 January.”

Online applications require a biometric face scan and photo ID which some parents have raised privacy concerns over, but this can be avoided by applying in person with your local council.

It’s estimated that up to 930,000 young people could benefit from the scheme.

The scheme is part of the Scottish Government’s net-zero by 2045 target designed to reduce emissions by encouraging the use of public transport.

Research commissioned by Transport Scotland shows 61% of young Scots agree access to public transport will play a role in the fight against climate change.

Applications can be made online here.

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