Fife scheme for cheap elderly rail travel is saved

Fife’s popular rail concession scheme for the over-60s has been granted a stay of execution after councillors said a plan to axe it needed further consultation.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 3:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st April 2021, 4:57 pm
The scheme looked set to be scrapped but has been saved.

Council officers had recommended scrapping the scheme as part of a Kingdom-wide review of public transport services, and reinvesting its £320,000 running costs in on-demand buses that were “more equitable” for the region.

However, the plan to bin the scheme has been criticised by councillors and the Levenmouth Rail Campaign, which described it as “utter madness”.

Council co-leader David Alexander said: “The report did say there was an apparent consensus on this that the concession scheme was not providing an equitable service throughout Fife, but it seems when councillors went back to their political groups they changed their minds.”

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Derek Crowe, Fife Council’s senior transportation manager, said the recommendation to scrap the rail scheme had not been made lightly, but was necessary to pursue a “budget neutral” strategy.

“This has been no light touch review and has proved quite a challenge on top of already heavy workloads,” he told a committee meeting today (April 1).

“We came up with the option to reinvest the funding from the rail concession scheme. We didn’t promote that suggestion lightly, and accept it was not a universally popular proposal, but it did allow the most beneficial options to be delivered.”

Cllr Altany Craik, who convenes the council’s transport committee, said he accepted the scheme was “less than perfect” but had not sought its removal as part of wider transport reform.

Council bosses say the new strategy includes actions to reduce car use and promote more bus use within — rather than out of — Fife, including a bid for Bus Partnership Fund cash to improve the bus-friendliness of local infrastructure.

Transport chiefs claimed the concession – which reduces the cost of any one-way trip within the Kingdom to £1 – was used to fuel bargain trips to Edinburgh.

More than half of the 175,000 journeys taken each year see older Fifers travel to Inverkeithing, according to council data.

Officers say pensioners then buy a “split” ticket to the capital, saving them as much as half their fare when travelling from the farthest reaches of northern Fife.

But councillors have ultimately ordered officers to hold off on closing the rail scheme down until the public has been asked for their views and the potential to save it with alternative funding has been investigated.

Cllr Craik, seconded by Cllr John Beare, said: “With the rail concession, particularly with the Fife Circle coming back, we need to look at how we make that work best for us.

“It’s about making sure we’re getting the right outcome for the money we spend.”

Future options for the scheme will be discussed at the council’s next policy and co-ordination committee meeting in May.