An appeal has gone to Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance; Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity; and Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, for action to cut costs for young people using ferry crossings.
The independent CalMac Community Board representing users of ferries across the Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Services network told the Ministers: "We were pleased to note the very positive proposal to provide free bus travel for young people under 19.
"We are also supportive of the intention to encourage more young people to use public transport whilst opening up the opportunity for young people in all areas to have equality of access regardless of their geography or financial status.
"This also brings into focus the position for young people for whom the ferry trip is their connecting bus trip, their way of accessing services and we believe all young people of the same age should be afforded the same rights and opportunities for free travel.
"The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 sets out the principle of island proofing new legislation and we would contend that a process of an Islands Community assessment would show the requirement to provide equality of opportunity. We also understand that positive outcomes of these assessments would be applied retrospectively but it would be a really positive signal to our young people to incorporate the extended provision in the budget process. We would therefore urge you to do just that and make a huge statement of commitment to our young people.
"The agenda for fairer fares for our youth is not a new one for the Community Board. As part of the Year of Young People 2018 we proposed a revision of the fares charged to minibuses taking young people to extracurricular activities between and off our Islands.
"This would remove the anomaly of such minibuses being charged significantly higher rates than an equivalent length motorhome and actively encourage educational and sports travel for island pupils. The Community Board worked hard to have this initiative accepted as good practice by CalMac, the David MacBrayne board, local authorities, elected representatives and, we believed, Transport Scotland. We demonstrated no cost to the public purse and reluctantly accepted the use of a pilot on two routes to prove the case.
"Almost 20 months on we still have not even got the introduction of a pilot through the bureaucracy of approval within the CHFS2 contract. You will understand therefore how positively we welcome the speed of introduction of your proposals but underline our hope that island youngsters receive the equal benefits and opportunities by extending the scheme to include ferry crossings.
"As a Board we will do all we can do to positively support such initiatives and are happy to do what we can to shape or facilitate proposals," said Angus Campbell who chairs the independent CalMac Community Board.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar welcomed the call from the CalMac Community Board for Scottish Ministers to extend moves to introduce free bus travel for under 19s to ferry travel.
Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, said: “This would be a very welcome move which would ensure that Island under 19s are not discriminated against in travel. Ferries are the equivalent of buses on the mainland and it would be only right that Island young people have the same travel opportunities as their counterparts on the mainland. It would be in line with Island Proofing which aims to ensure Island communities are not adversely impacted by legislation.
“It would also assist in retaining young people in the Islands if they can travel more easily to sporting and cultural events on the mainland. Free travel for Under 19s would enable more regular competition in sporting contests in particular which has been a long term aspiration for Island sports groups.
“Such a move is also consistent with the new National Transport Strategy’s aspirations, one of which is to promote equality and provide an inclusive, accessible and equitable transport system for all.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, said: “The only commitment given by the Scottish Government is to examine the possibility of free bus travel for 18s and under.
“But should this policy come to fruition, and I very much hope it does, it must be island-proofed and no community should be left disadvantaged."
Comment from CnES and MSP added after orginal publication.