Fife Council wants to scrap cheap rail journeys for pensioners

Fife Council is set to scrap a concessionary rail scheme for pensioners because they say it benefits Edinburgh more than the Kingdom itself.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 2:44 pm
Fife Council says the benefit goes to Edinburgh more than the Kingdom.

Local authority officers are tabling plans to scrap the scheme, which offers over-60s £1 rail journeys anywhere within the region, because of the disproportionate use of the scheme to travel to the capital on the cheap.

Over 175,000 trips are made using the concessionary rail scheme each year, costing the local authority over £320,000.

More than half of those journeys see older Fifers travel to Inverkeithing, with council officers claiming they then buy split tickets for cheaper, onward travel to Edinburgh.

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The £1 flat rate meant some passengers saved as much as half of their ticket price when travelling from further-flung parts of Fife such as Cupar and Ladybank across the Firth of Forth.

At a meeting this Thursday councillors will be asked to scrap the scheme “as soon as reasonably practicable” and to reinvest some of the cash in the Fife Bus scheme instead.

This “ring-and-ride” scheme operates much like a taxi, with locals able to pick a time and destination, and supports those with mobility issues who may find other forms of public transport difficult to access.

Ken Gourlay, head of assets and facilities management, says this is a more “equitable” way of using transport cash to move Fifers about compared with the rail concession scheme, which he says largely functions as a low-cost means of shipping locals into Scotland’s capital.

He writes in his report: “The Fife Rail Concession scheme (is) not providing an equitable service across Fife, no longer providing value for money to the council, nor helping to meet wider council objectives such as local economic recovery.

“It has been shown that the main draw for travel is onwards to Edinburgh which means that the scheme mainly benefits those living furthest from Edinburgh with little concession benefits to those eligible and residing in South of Fife, meaning that the scheme is not equitable Fife-wide and does little to support the Fife economy.”

Mr Gourlay says that demand for local buses is growing as lockdown restrictions ease and says supporting local buses will “better assist the more vulnerable in our society, address socio-economic disadvantage across Fife and support recovery of the local economy.”

His assertions are backed up by nationwide Transport Scotland data, which shows bus use is currently at around 34% of pre-pandemic levels while rail journeys are dwindling at 14% of typical rates.

Even if the rail scheme is scrapped, free bus travel remains available for all over-60s with national entitlement cards across most of Scotland’s local and cross-country services.