Concerns over ‘unintended consequence’ as youths exploit free bus pass
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Concerns were raised as the Scottish Government’s initiative claimed over 62 million journeys had been made since its launch in January.
Aimed at 12-21 year olds, it was designed to make sustainable travel more affordable and get them to work or college - or get on with the daily necessities without worrying about the cost.
But a minority have used the free passes to travel wider, and their anti-social behaviour has impacted on shops as well as communities.
It was raised as a police concern at this week’s meeting of Glenrothes area committee, and Kirkaldy councillors also have some worries over the impact.
Last month, it was revealed shop staff were being abused, and in some instances, physically assaulted, by youngsters in the town centre, with more problems raised at Fife Retail Park - youths were recently seen on the roof of a building just last week.
Councillor Ian Cameron (Labour), who chairs Kirkcaldy area committee, said the bus passes were causing “significant problems” at the retail park through anti-social behaviour and crimes of dishonesty. He said Kirkcaldy East had less of an issue, but groups were visiting weekly and causing similar problems.
Councillor Kathleen Leslie (Burntisland, Kinghorn, Western Kirkcaldy, Tory), suggested a review, adding: "I am rather conflicted because I know the majority of young people using the scheme are not causing problems, but we have to ensure we are getting this right for everyone using the buses and also for the drivers who have to feel they are working in a manageable and safe environment at all times. With some better consultation and listening to the many concerns prior to the policy being rolled out would have been constructive."
One possible option, she suggested, may be for school pupils to only be able to use the free pass during school hours throughout term time and up until, say, 6:00pm so anyone taking part in after school activities can get home safely.
“Evenings and weekends could perhaps do with a rethink - do pupils really need to be travelling around Fife in the evenings and the weekends?" she asked.
Councillor Lesley Backhouse (Burntisland, Kinghorn, Western Kirkcaldy, SNP) said in summer teenagers were using free access at train stations to move around, but problems were dealt with promptly.
The anecdotal nature of the issue makes it harder to quantify, but for David Torrance MSP, the scheme has been a huge success - and that cannot be forgotten amid the misuse of the free travel by some youths.
He said: “The difference free bus travel makes to families on low-incomes is immense, and for a small minority of youngsters to jeopardise this amazing project is completely unfair to the thousands of responsible commuters who benefit from free travel.
“A lot of families in my constituency live below the breadline and do not own a car so the Scottish Government’s free bus travel scheme has shown to be a lifeline for young people who can commute to work, their place of study, or family days out, without having to worry about the extra cost of travel.
“The overall uptake from the estimated 930,000 people eligible is currently 60.7%. The uptake for those aged 12-15 is higher at 69.3% and for those aged 16-21 the figure is 71.5%. These figures prove that the free travel scheme is working for young people across Scotland with the majority of youngsters being perfectly well behaved.”