(posed by model)
A friend in Dundee uses her bus pass regularly, not only to travel round the city but further afield to Perth and Edinburgh. I have no problem with that because she has never driven or owned a car. Since her husband died some years ago, she has spent a few thousand pounds taking more and more angst-ridden lessons. She even bought a car in the hope that by using her own car for her tri-weekly lessons, she would suddenly develop the necessary skills to be safe on the roads. The theory aspect of the test she passed with flying colours.
However, the car no longer decorates her garage and a couple of years ago she realised, at the age of 78, her hope of driving was an illusion. Since then she has been more appreciative of Scotland's national concessionary travel scheme and was shouting with rage when she telephoned me the other day. "You won't believe it," I was told over and over again.
Finally I was told 'what I wouldn't believe'. That morning she had travelled on two buses to attend an appointment at Ninewells Hospital. During the second journey a woman, who looked in her late 40s or early 50s, came up the aisle and sat in the seat in front of her, joining another woman of a similar age. They obviously knew each other and discussed family for a few minutes. Then the new arrival proudly boasted to her friend that she travelled everywhere free. The friend said, "How do you manage that? You're not disabled." The reply was, "I use my mother's bus pass. With these electronic machines it's easy because the drivers never have time to check photos." Both women chuckled.
I started to research the cost of bus passes and found this blog which has eloquently dissected the use of bus passes in Edinburgh.
Can we afford to continue with the current regulations regarding the use of bus passes? Should we be curtailing their use to off-peak hours and limited mileage as happens in England?
The introduction of free bus travel opened up a world to many who otherwise may not have journeyed much past their own neighbourhood and for them it is a most welcome 'freebie' from a social and possibly health angle. Misuse seems to be rife and the blame can't all be placed on the shoulders of bus drivers.
We can't afford to continue the scheme if the fraud isn't managed. Why, when buses were fitted - just a couple of years ago - with the ticket machine technology, wasn't an anti-fraud system incorporated, such as fingerprint identity? Many schools have been using such technology for some years.
In the first 4 years of the scheme £748 million was spent and it's increasing rapidly year on year. Perhaps the best place to start is with a system which will defeat the fraudsters. Once that resolves the abuse then perhaps we can honestly assess whether an independent Scotland can afford free bus travel.