AN SNP council chief has written to Kate Forbes asking her to fund free travel on trams in Edinburgh and the Glasgow Subway for under-22s from next year.

Adam McVey, leader of Edinburgh City Council, asked the Finance Secretary to extend the policy of free bus travel from the end of January for people aged 21 and younger to those in the same age group who use trams and the subway.

“The importance of Edinburgh trams to the city’s and Scotland’s public transport infrastructure has been vividly demonstrated during the pandemic, playing a vital role in keeping the city moving throughout that time,” McVey wrote.

“We are grateful for the financial support provided by Transport Scotland during this period and also welcome the extension of free bus travel to those under the age of 22 from January 31, 2022. This plays an important role in encouraging sustainable travel from a young age and will contribute towards local and national sustainability targets.”

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McVey added that the current cost of extending the free travel provision for under-22s to trams would be around £2 million, though this would rise with the completion of a new route to the suburb of Newhaven.

“In order to maximise these benefits, however, the scheme should be expanded to include light rail, hence avoiding any unintended consequences for the wider viability of Edinburgh Trams (ET) and Glasgow Subway,” he wrote.

“For ET alone, we estimate the annual cost upon implementation to be almost £2m, with this increasing substantially upon the completion of the route to Newhaven.”

Free bus travel for under-22s was agreed by the Scottish Government in a move to win support from the Greens during last year’s Budget negotiations. At the time, the SNP governed as a minority administration.

In August the Scottish Government struck a co-operation deal with the Greens which saw the two co-leaders of the Greens Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater become junior ministers.

The National: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (centre) welcoming Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater at Bute House

As part of the deal, Green MSPs will be required to support the government in key parliamentary votes, including the Budget.

McVey praised the policy of free bus travel for the under-22s but pointed out its limitations in Scotland’s two largest cities, where many people travel on the tram and subway systems.

He told The National: “We’re working through Cosla to make sure local government gets a fair deal in the upcoming Scottish Budget but I’m also taking sure that Edinburgh-specific issues are considered by the government too.

“Free bus travel for people under 22 is a fantastic policy and a huge achievement by the SNP in government but there is a need in cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, where tram and subway are important parts of the network, to expand this policy.

“The analysis we’ve done shows the cost of doing this is unaffordable for us as a council to fund alone, but we very much hope the Scottish Government can expand the policy in the Budget to include light rail to help deliver the ambition of this policy for young people getting around the capital.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We are committed to giving our young people the very best chances to succeed in life. The extension of free bus travel to all under-22s will improve access to education, leisure, and work, while supporting the adoption of sustainable travel behaviours early in their lives, particularly as bus provides the widest network of public transport provision in Scotland.

“The new statutory nationwide scheme is for bus travel only in the same way as the existing older and disabled persons’ free bus scheme.

"There are separate local concessionary schemes run by local authorities or regional transport partnerships that cover other modes of transport. Any decision to extend concessions to these modes rests with them.

“We are undertaking a fair fares review to ensure a sustainable and integrated approach to public transport fares.

"It will look at the range of discounts and concessionary schemes available on all modes and will consider both cost and availability of services.”

The Scottish Government was approached for comment.