Extending the benefits of the National Concessionary Travel Scheme to rail travel across Scotland is a sensible suggestion, giving passengers greater freedom of choice, but not necessarily requiring an extra subsidy from the Scottish Government.
This is based on the two simple principles of the subsidy following the concessionary passenger (rather than unfairly discriminating against the train as a travel mode) and also the accepted reality that a passenger cannot be travelling on both bus and a train at the same time.
At present, bus operators in Scotland receive a subsidy payment of 67 per cent of the normal adult single fare for every concessionary passenger carried – at all times of the day, on any route, for any distance. Such a concessionary support subsidy should also be available (perhaps with judicious time or route restrictions) to the concessionary train traveller, who on production of the National Concessionary Travel Card, would have this ‘bus equivalent’ amount deducted from the normal rail fare.
Any topping-up payment required in the event of a higher rail fare would then be paid by the passenger if they felt such a smallish outlay was worthwhile for a generally superior form of travel.
First ScotRail and other train operators now have a very sophisticated fare information database into which they could easily include the bus fare subvention deductible from the cost of each concessionary rail ticket purchased. Smart-technology ticketing machines could achieve this transaction at a stroke and would open up a wide range of enhanced travel opportunities, particularly for longer distance journeys across Scotland.
Although this proposal would probably never match the absolutely ‘user-free’ cost of concessionary bus travel, it would certainly achieve a major reduction in the sky-high cost of rail fares for the concessionary traveller who is irrationally excluded from any benefits of the National Concessionary Travel Scheme (other than limited local authority rail ticket reductions, now under threat, in many instances).
Trial pilot schemes in selected areas of Scotland could easily be set up in early 2013 and, given their probable success, then extended throughout Scotland within the current expenditure context of the National Concessionary Travel Scheme.
Given a continuation of this scheme, such fairer treatment for concessionary rail travellers should subsequently be embedded as an integral requirement of the 2014 ScotRail franchise specification.