20 March 2019

S5M-16408 Free Bus Travel (Under-25s)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is the debate on motion S5M-16408, in the name of Colin Smyth, on free bus travel for under-25s.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I draw members’ attention to the fact that I am honorary president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport. Indeed, it is the annual general meeting of the SAPT a week on Friday in Perth. Should any colleagues wish to join me, I can tell them that Tom Harris will be an excellent speaker, albeit that he will be speaking about trains, not buses.

Let me say at the outset—as I have said before—that I do not criticise everything that Labour and the Liberal Democrats did in their period in office from 1999 to 2007. The work that Jack McConnell led on smoking was visionary, successful and to be applauded, and I applaud it again. Equally, the bus pass scheme was a great achievement of that period.

I, too, am a bus pass holder. I just looked up the details on my mobile phone and it says that it never expires. That is certainly true under this Government, despite some of the myths that have been peddled at various points. I am also a user of my bus pass, but I am among the 46 per cent of people who use their pass at least once a month, rather than weekly or daily, simply due to my travel pattern. Therefore, I have an interest in supporting the bus pass scheme that we have.

Let us look at what the Labour Party proposes. People aged 25 or under make up 19 per cent of our population, or slightly more than 1 million people. There are 1.3 million bus passes, which cost us £200 million. What will it cost to provide bus passes to a similar number of people? It will cost £13 million, if we are to believe Richard Leonard when he was interviewed by Peter MacMahon on “Representing Border”. That requires an interesting piece of arithmetic. How we get the cost down to just over 5 per cent of the current cost, I do not quite know.

The issue will run and run. Work with the Scottish Youth Parliament to ensure that we understand the costs is the basis on which we can proceed. I am in favour of extending the bus pass scheme. When I was a minister, I extended it in a relatively modest way, for disabled ex-servicemen, so in principle I am up for that and very much hope that we find ways of doing it.

However, I say gently to my Labour colleagues that where Labour is in power rather than merely talking about power, performance and behaviour are quite at odds with what I hear from members on the Labour benches. Despite the power to do so existing in Cardiff, we have seen no move there to take public ownership of the buses. We have seen no extension of the concessionary schemes to anything other than local services—and not to a national scheme. We have not seen Labour in government do anything that approximates to what the Labour Party did here before 2007 or what it seeks to do now.

I close with an international comparison. My current intern, Bella, comes from California. She has a wee house on the other side of Edinburgh and travels in daily by bus. She is astonished and delighted by the quality of the bus service that gets her to the Parliament every day. Her view accords with those of the 91 per cent of people who, according to the most recent survey, say that our bus services are very good. That is a number that is going up.


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