Fife’s historic concessionary rail travel scheme, which entitles eligible users to discounted journeys, could soon be coming to an end, it has emerged.
Fife Council remains just one of a handful of local authorities to offer people over the age of 60 and those with disabilities, off-peak rail travel between any two Fife stations for £1 per single journey.
Around £375,000 a year is set aside to reimburse rail operators for the difference in the cost of travel but a working group has concluded the Fife Rail Concession Scheme is not providing an equitable service across the region and is no longer value for money.
Councillors on the local authority’s policy and co-ordination committee will be asked next week to stop the rail concession scheme “as soon as reasonably practicable” and reinvest some of the cashinto expanding the Fife Bus service.
That provides free door-to-door transport for people who cannot use conventional public transport and there are plans to buy and supply four new vehicles.
In a report to Thursday’s committee, Ken Gourlay, head of assets, transportation and environment, confirmed the rail concession scheme would have to end as early as May 2021 to ensure funding could be reinvested into Fife Bus.
‘A difficult decision’
“Whilst a difficult decision to remove the local rail concession scheme, the aim of this review is to achieve best use of the limited funding to meet council objectives, aid recovery, and provide more equitable provision for all Fifers,” the report states.
“From the perspective of recovery, on balance, it is considered that the benefits of investing in a more equitable expansion of the Fife Bus Recovery Service will outweigh the removal of a historic and inequitable rail concession scheme, and support more local journeys for those unable to use conventional public transport.”
The working group is understood to have found the main draw for travel is onwards to Edinburgh, which means the scheme mainly benefits those living furthest from Edinburgh, with little meaning to those eligible and residing in the south of Fife.
It had looked at increasing the fare from £1 per single journey to £2 per single journey, which could save the council up to 40% of its £375,000 budget if passenger numbers remained the same.
However, the working group discovered if all other factors stayed the same, including the main draw of onward travel to Edinburgh, the scheme would be even less equitable than currently.
The report added: “Should the scheme be removed, the opportunity to travel by train would still remain albeit without a subsidy from the council, as would the availability of a range of national railcards which offer reductions to fares.”
The news has been met with disappointment from Disabilities Fife.
Charles Litster, chairman, said: “It was a very handy means of people getting from A to B.
“People going from Inverkeithing to Dundee would be able to travel for a £1, get off at Cupar and get the bus into Dundee and this would stop that completely.
“It gave people a lot of freedom and they could get out and about on mini days out. This is a sad reflection on our times.”
Fife Conservative group leader Councillor Dave Dempsey said: “The rail concession saving was in the list of options for the budget decided on the 11th of this month.
“The SNP/Lab administration didn’t touch it so it’ll be interesting to see what line they take on Thursday.
“The coalition’s insistence on rigid, centrally controlled budgeting (in contrast to our decentralised, commissioning approach) means that, three weeks after budget day, they have to cut something to pay for something else.
“We need a short time to work through the proposal and decide whether the something else is worth it.”