Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has sought support from Western Isles MSP, Dr Alasdair Allan, to extend free bus services for young people under 22s to ferry travel. The Comhairle, the CalMac Communities Board and other stakeholders have been campaigning on this issue for quite some time at political level, but to no avail thus far.
Transport Scotland has recently undertaken an Islands Community Impact Assessment (ICIA) of free bus travel for U22s and has sought the views of stakeholders. The Comhairle responded and indicated that the scheme would have limited economic impact for young people on islands in comparison to young people on the Scottish mainland as they need to travel by ferry to access educational, social, recreational, sporting and employment opportunities on the mainland.
Cllr Uisdean Robertson, the Comhairle’s Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure said: “The principle of island proofing enshrined in the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 is to remove disadvantage. There has to be an acceptance within Scottish Government that for young people living on islands, ferries are the equivalent of buses on the mainland. Free bus travel for young people under 22 should be extended to island ferry crossings. It should not be a matter of geography or place of residence, it should be a matter of fairness, equal and affordable opportunities and inclusiveness. Furthermore, regular ferry travel is expensive and the concessionary scheme as it currently stands may actually be a deterrent to retaining our young people on these islands which is major challenge as it is.”
Cllr Robertson added: “To extend this youth concessionary scheme to ferry travel would send a positive political message to island communities that full and practical cognisance has been taken of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and ICIAs and would be entirely within the spirit of the National Transport Strategy and the National Islands Plan.”