PENSIONERS for Independence have urged the Scottish Government to abandon plans to reduce airport tax duty in order to protect and expand the concessionary travel scheme.

The group has noted with concern that the Scottish Government’s draft budget document showed plans to cut concessionary travel cash by £9.5 million in 2017/18.

Plans to increase the age of those eligible for concessionary travel should be resisted, according to the group. Instead it says there is a strong social justice argument for extending the concessionary travel scheme to young people up to the age of 24, and to all those on benefits, including the unemployed.

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“Rather than giving any consideration to restricting the numbers eligible for a free bus pass, if any budget savings are required the Scottish Government should halt any plans to reduce airport duty tax (ADT) by 50 per cent by the end of the current session of the Scottish Parliament,” say the group.

“The tax cut is a subsidy to the airline industry, which is already heavily subsidised by taxpayers. Pensioners for Independence believe that within the current session of parliament the Scottish Government should fundamentally reconsider these two transport policy initiatives.

“Transport Scotland has indicated that, in order to ensure the longer-term sustainability of our national concessionary travel scheme, they are preparing to engage with stakeholders to gather views.

“Pensioners for Independence strongly believe that there should be no increase in the eligibility age for the concessionary travel scheme.”

The group say that those most likely to be affected in any such proposal would be aged 60 to 65, many of whom are women already seriously affected by the sudden increase in pension age for women.

They point out that the existing free bus pass scheme has economic, social and environmental benefits.

“By enabling people to travel free to different parts of the country, the spending power of concessionary holders benefits local businesses throughout Scotland,” say the group.

“Secondly, social research shows that meeting friends outside the home extends the quality of life and health of pensioners. Further, the concessionary travel scheme improves bus services for paying passengers by using buses in off-peak times. Lastly, the concessionary travel scheme encourages people to abandon their cars, thereby helping to reduce inner-city traffic congestion and air pollution.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We have published the consultation on the future of the concessionary travel scheme and we want to ensure that the scheme continues to benefit those who have the greatest reliance on free bus travel. The consultation sets out a number of options to safeguard free bus travel. It also asks about extension to young modern apprentices and provision of companion cards to disabled children under five years old.”