PUBLIC transport is central to our lives. It influences where we live, where we work and where and when we see our friends and family.

It is particularly vital in rural areas, with UN envoy Philip Alston comparing it to water and electricity in terms of its importance.

When bus or train services are cut it can have a big impact on people’s wellbeing and access to vital services. In Clackmannanshire, which I represent, I have been supporting a vibrant community campaign to save the X53 bus service which links Kinross to Stirling.

I worked with residents to take their concerns into parliament, where I led a debate on local bus services in December. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, First Bus cancelled the route this week.

We need to change the way these services are funded and run to ensure that our communities are no longer being cut off. With Greens in government, we are putting public transport at the heart of our recovery.

One of the biggest barriers to public transport is cost, with a lot of people on low incomes being priced out of buses and trains. This was happening prior to the pandemic, with figures from Transport Scotland showing a 9% fare hike on buses from 2015-2019 (over and above general inflation). This is one reason why bus use was falling – with a 12% reduction in the number of journeys during the same period.

At the same time, the number of drivers on the road was steadily increasing. More cars means poorer air quality and makes it far harder for us to meet our climate targets.

READ MORE: Free bus travel for young people in Scotland to get under way as applications open

As a Green, I believe that public transport should be free and accessible for everyone. I am delighted that we are taking a big step towards this on January 31 when we are introducing free bus travel across Scotland for everyone aged 21 or under.

It is not only a transformational policy in terms of family budgets and opening up opportunities for young people, it will also help us to shift people out of cars. By expanding bus use we can help to safeguard lifeline services, like the X53, while reducing our emissions.

The scheme requires young people to register for a new National Entitlement Card (also known as Young Scot Card). Older cards will not work, so registration is essential. It takes around 15 minutes to do, with young people under 16 requiring an adult to make the application. I registered my son when registration opened last week.

Whilst many young people and their families will be able to apply for new NEC cards via the mobile app or other digital devices, those without access to the necessary ID documents may face additional hurdles when accessing the scheme.

My Green colleagues and I are doing everything that we can to reduce those hurdles. We are working with councils and the Scottish Government to ensure that no-one misses out on the scheme, especially those who may find the online application process difficult.

Contrary to what some have said, you do not need digital access or photo ID to apply, although if you do have these then you can apply online using a smartphone. Schools and councils can help you apply in person directly if you cannot get online or don’t have an available ID.

The card is a key part of our plans to build a resilient, sustainable and integrated transport network and ensure that public transport is the first and best choice for journeys.

Public transport is far too important to simply be left to the market. That is why we are boosting public ownership, with the co-operation agreement between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government delivering a £500 million community bus fund to promote locally owned services and put communities in the driving seat.

I know that buses are not always viable for longer cross-country journeys. If we are to expand green travel then we need to ensure that bus and train services complement one another and that rail is also an affordable and accessible option.

To do this, we are investing £5 billion in decarbonising and improving our railways, as well as launching a fair fares review to ensure that our trains provide good value as well as a first-class service.

By investing in public transport we are investing in our communities. We are creating opportunities and supporting services that are vital to our wellbeing. It is the sort of ambitious and transformative change that Greens are in parliament to secure. I am delighted that we have been able to take a vital Green policy from the drawing board to reality and that, despite the difficulties of Covid, essential travellers, such as key workers, will be able to feel the benefit from day one.

There are a number of different ways for five to 21-year-olds to get their card to access free bus travel: l Online at GETYOURNEC.SCOT l Via a local council where it is not possible to apply online l In some local council areas, schools are co-ordinating applications on behalf of pupils.

To apply online, you will need a device with a camera or webcam, proof of identity, and proof of address.

Young people aged 16-21 should apply themselves, while parents or guardians will be required to apply on behalf of five to 15-year-olds. Children under the age of five do not need to apply.