MORE than 21 million bus journeys have been made by under-22s in Scotland since free travel was introduced, the Scottish Government have revealed.

The Young Persons’ (under-22) Free Bus Travel Scheme began on January 31 and gives all those aged five to 21 the ability to travel on public transport free of charge.

Following the success of the policy, the Scottish Government has launched a new marketing campaign to encourage more eligible children and young people to use the scheme.

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More than half of those eligible already benefit from the scheme, according to the Scottish Government.

But the new campaign will use TV, digital, radio and outdoor channels to encourage more people to use their pass for free bus travel.

Opposition politicians have claimed that the campaign shows a "botched" roll-out of the scheme which they suggest should have been simplified. 

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth said: “As outlined in the Programme for Government, I’m pleased we are continuing to promote free bus travel for under-22s.

“With over 21 million free bus journeys made by under-22s across Scotland, this landmark policy is already helping young people and families with children cut costs for everyday and leisure travel, while at the same time protecting our climate.

The National: Transport minister Jenny Gilruth said £400,000 had been allocated by the Scottish GovernmentTransport minister Jenny Gilruth said £400,000 had been allocated by the Scottish Government

“With the majority of eligible young people now having access to free bus travel all across Scotland, for local journeys and further afield, now is the time to begin a new campaign aimed at those who may not have considered using the bus before.

“Free bus travel helps with transport affordability, it helps our young people access education and leisure destinations – all while helping us meet our net zero targets by encouraging a shift away from cars.”

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon said that the awareness campaign should not have been necessary and the scheme kept as "simple as possible".

She added: "It’s unfortunate that the botched rollout delayed thousands of young Scots from getting their free bus passes.

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“Several months after the policy launch, SNP and Green ministers need to explain why a £400,000 marketing campaign is needed now and demonstrate that this is value for money.

“In reality, a free bus pass is only useful if local bus services are readily available when people need them. As well as expanding access to free bus travel, the Scottish Government must address the serious decline in bus services that has occurred under its watch.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell said: “In this first seven months, we’ve already seen hundreds of thousands of young people in Scotland benefiting from this transformational policy agreed by Green MSPs and the Scottish Government back in 2020.

The National: Ruskell said a public information campaign was paused due to an upsurge in Covid-19 casesRuskell said a public information campaign was paused due to an upsurge in Covid-19 cases

“It’s a vital part of our transport future, building up public transport habits at an early stage, ultimately leading to fewer vehicles on the road.

“The original plans for a public information campaign ahead of launch in January were postponed because of the upsurge in Covid-19 cases at that time.

“But it is now even more important, in the midst of a cost crisis, that every young person knows about their right to free bus travel.”

A National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot NEC is required to travel free of charge.

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Kirsten Urquhart, chief executive of Young Scot, said: “Nationwide bus travel for under-22-year-olds not only supports young people to make travel choices that benefit them and their pockets – even more pertinent in the emerging cost crisis – but provides a way for them to experience new places, access a wider range of opportunities, and have fun.

“Hearing from so many young people about the benefits of using the Young Scot National Entitlement Card to make free journeys is uplifting and I hope this new campaign will continue to encourage more under-22s to sign up.”