Bid to make Glasgow subway free for young people

Free Glasgow Subway travel for young people aged under 22 has been proposed.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), which runs the subway, wants a free bus scheme for under 22s extended to the underground.

Why does it want the scheme extended?

SPT bosses fear losing up to £3 million per year as an “unintended consequence” of the free bus travel — which would be 15 per cent of the total annual ticket revenue.

Service cuts or price rises could be required if the scheme does not include the Subway, SPT has warned.

It has called on the Scottish Government to extend the under 22s bus scheme to the subway. Young people won’t have to pay to use buses from February next year.

SPT has also told Scotland’s finance secretary Kate Forbes that it could deliver a “truly integrated transport card” in Strathclyde as “a COP26 legacy” after delegates at the climate summit were able to travel for free by rail, Subway or bus using one pass.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes didn't reckon much to Wednesday's Budget. (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Getty Images)Finance Secretary Kate Forbes didn't reckon much to Wednesday's Budget. (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Getty Images)
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes didn't reckon much to Wednesday's Budget. (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Getty Images)

Campaigners say public transport should be free for everyone across Glasgow, and believe offering free bus travel to the young and the elderly doesn’t encourage the ‘middle group’ — who are more likely to own cars — to stop driving.

It is estimated 17 per cent of Subway journeys are made by customers under the age of 22, totalling more than two million journeys per year.

What happens next?

Councillors will be asked to back SPT’s request at a meeting on Thursday, and a council report states the impact of losing Subway customers to the buses could be “long-lasting.”

SPT, in partnership with Transport for Edinburgh (TfE), has sent a letter to Transport Scotland asking to be included in the free bus travel plan. It has also written to finance secretary Kate Forbes asking her to consider the impact on SPT when she sets the Scottish Government’s budget on December 9.

What is SPT saying?

Councillor Dr Martin Bartos, the SPT chairman, said the organisation “strongly supports” the plan to make bus journeys “free at point of use” for under 22s.

He said: “We believe it to be a positive step towards tackling poverty and reducing inequalities, however we also strongly believe that transport is multi-modal and such schemes should be extended to cover travel on both Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams.”

He added he expects the possible £3 million losses would “have to be made up from other public funds, service cuts or price rises”.

The letter to Transport Scotland chief Roy Brannen states the Subway offers “quick, convenient, low carbon travel options in Glasgow and Edinburgh and it is essential that young people have the best possible opportunity to benefit from these”.

It adds including the Subway in the free travel scheme would potentially cause “funding complexities” but an alternative would be to “fund the acceptance of the under-22s on both systems if included as part of local concessions schemes.”

SPT has told Ms Forbes that the public transport network in the west of Scotland is in a “fragile and perilous state,” with customer levels “significantly below” pre-pandemic levels.

The letter to the finance secretary states: “We note particularly the attention garnered by the COP26 delegates pass, which facilitated travel on multiple modes, and, given our existing SPT smartcard track record and partnerships we believe we could, for example, with your support, deliver a truly integrated transport card in Strathclyde as a COP26 legacy.”

At the meeting on Thursday, councillors will decide whether to instruct the council’s chief executive to write to Transport Scotland to back SPT’s campaign.

What are campaigners saying?

Ellie Harrison, from campaign group Get Glasgow Moving, said free public transport “should be available across all transport modes, and eventually for all demographics.”

Ms Harrison said: “If we continue with the current concessionary model of just offering free bus travel to certain groups (elderly, disabled and young people) then we do nothing to encourage those in the ‘middle group’ — who are more likely to own cars — to start using the bus instead of driving.

“This also continues to stigmatise buses as a transport mode which is just used by certain groups and does nothing to create a better-integrated society and encourage modal shift.

“London’s concessionary card scheme — the ‘Freedom Pass’ — offers free travel across all transport modes. Why can’t ours?”