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Free bus travel is widely used, but there were weaknesses in the scheme's planning and implementation

Posted: 7 October 2010

Scotland's national scheme of free bus travel for older and disabled people is widely used. However, there were weaknesses in how it was planned and implemented.

An Audit Scotland report, National concessionary travel, looks at the scheme, which was introduced in 2006 to replace 16 local council-run programmes. National concessionary travel, (NCT) is popular among users, with 80 per cent of over-60s in Scotland holding a bus pass.

There was only limited information about the cost of the scheme when the Scottish Parliament considered its introduction. While NCT started on time, robust systems were not in place to effectively manage it or monitor its success, and the overall impact of the scheme is still not clear. There has been a four-and-a-half-year delay in rolling out the technology to support the scheme, and this is costing £42 million, against an original budget of £9 million.

Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black said:

“National concessionary travel is popular, with take up by older people at a very high level. But there were weaknesses in how the scheme was planned and implemented. Systems to effectively administer NCT were not in place, and this left it more open to error and fraud.

“It is expected to take four and a half years longer than planned to fully introduce the technology that is key to the scheme working effectively, and this has cost more than four times the original budget.”

Since 2006, just over 1.1 million people have been issued with a bus pass, and the costs of national concessionary travel are significant - over £199 million during 2009/10. This is expected to rise although it is not possible to predict exact future costs. Audit Scotland illustrates the potential costs of the scheme in the report: for example, allowing for the estimated growth in the number of people aged 60 and over, by 2025 annual costs could rise to £216 million (in 2010 prices). Future increases in the price of adult single fares – which have increased on average at 6.25% a year since NCT was introduced - would make the costs higher.

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