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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 12:33 GMT
New ticket to ride move for OAPs
Bus interior
The new scheme is aimed at solving problems faced by OAPs
Pensioners are to receive free national bus travel anywhere in Scotland from April 2006, the transport minister has announced.

The national scheme replaces the 16 local concessionary travel schemes already in operation.

Nicol Stephen said the "groundbreaking" deal will enable pensioners and disabled people to travel free at any time of day.

Richard Mead, of Help the Aged, welcomed the move.

The scheme will also give islanders a minimum of two free return mainland ferry journeys.

The Scottish Executive will police the scheme using Smartcards to help combat fraudulent claims.

A free national bus travel scheme will further improve the quality of life for over one million people in Scotland
Transport Minister Nicol Stephen
Its cost will be capped at 159m in 2006/07 and 163m the following year.

Announcing the move in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Stephen said the scheme will provide greater access to vital health and community services.

"A free national bus travel scheme will further improve the quality of life for over one million people in Scotland by opening access to greater travel choice," he added.

"It will connect communities across the country."

Mr Mead said pensioners had encountered many problems with the current system.

He said: "At the boundary points, older people have been told that they must get off the bus and re-board it.

"We've also heard in some instances some older people have been told to get off the bus, stay at the bus stop and wait for the next bus - even when they've been willing to pay and continue on their journey on the bus they were on.

MSP John Swinburne of the SSCUP
John Swinburne claims abuse of the present fares scheme is rampant
"It obviously has been unacceptable to us and obviously to the older people themselves."

The existing patchwork of local concessionary schemes is being standardised and extended.

Intercity travel will be included from the start of the scheme. Details of a separate scheme for students and young people will be made public shortly.

Both schemes will be run by the new Transport Agency being set up under a bill now going through parliament.

Welcoming the announcement, Michelle Hegarty of Capability Scotland, said: Michelle Hegarty, Director of Communications, Capability Scotland said: "This announcement, which goes further than we anticipated, means that disabled people will not just be restricted to off peak travel.

"This will help many people get to vital daytime opportunities such as healthcare appointments and training opportunities.

MSPs urged ministers last month to tackle rogue bus operators who are allegedly conning councils on the cost of the fares scheme.

Scams claim

About 1.1 million elderly and disabled people have been entitled to free off-peak and weekend local bus travel.

However, Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party MSP John Swinburne told finance committee members that abuse was "rampant".

He alleged some unscrupulous firms had been claiming the cash for non-existent fares back from local authorities.

Under the new centralised scheme operators hoping to offer concessionary fares must agree to introduce a "mystery passenger" scheme which will demonstrate that the correct charging procedures are in place.

Disabled people seeking further details on how to qualify for concessionary travel can contact ascs@capability-scotland.org.uk.


SEE ALSO:
Call to tighten up free fare rule
09 Nov 04 |  Scotland
Bus travel fails to impress
21 Oct 03 |  Scotland


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