As of February 2022, everyone in Scotland aged under 22 can benefit from free bus travel though a new Scottish Government scheme that was officially launched on 31 January. The scheme was designed to increase access to transport for young people and promote sustainable transport. It was thought it could benefit up to 930,000 people.
Every 5 to 21 year old living in Scotland can enjoy the free bus travel, but they will need to have a valid National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC), for which anyone in Scotland within the targeted age group can apply for.
Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth, said the new scheme would help reduce car use and support local bus services to recover from Covid restrictions. “Extending free bus travel will make public transport more affordable, and help give many young people wider access to more education, leisure, and work opportunities. It will also support the choice to travel sustainably early in their lives.”
Patrick Harvie MSP, Minister for Active Travel, also stated: “As we work to secure a green recovery from the pandemic, free bus travel will create new opportunities, protect our climate while at the same time reducing financial barriers for young people right across the country.”
The introduction of the scheme was part of the budget deal agreed between the government parties in March 2021. To fund the scheme a similar system is applied as for the funding of free transport scheme for people over 60, disabled people and carers. The Scottish government will pay bus companies for each individual journey made. The payment value will be a percentage of what an adult single fare would be. For journeys made by five to 15-year-olds, bus companies will get 43.6% of an adult single fare. For 16 to 21-year-olds, they'll get 81.2%.
With the new scheme in place and with children under five, people over 60, disabled people and carers already enjoying free bus transport, 2.3 million people can now benefit from free bus travel in Scotland (out of a population of 5.5 million, this is almost 42%). It is however not likely that access to free bus transport will be extended to the entire population.
Glasgow City Council, which applied for Government support to start a free public transport pilot project in Glasgow on the back of the success of the free integrated travel card in place during COP26, was told earlier this month the Government is unable to commit to funding. In its response, the Government noted the cost of any additional free public transport concessions has to be weighed against the costs of keeping a viable network operating. It also pointed at the unprecedented financial and capacity impacts on the transport sector of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is more information on free bus transport in Scotland.