WHEN I’m on the train to Edinburgh I sit alongside fellow travellers who have little choice about what train they get. It has always felt wrong that many workers are effectively being taxed by a rail fare they can’t avoid.

There are hundreds of thousands of us who use our rail network every week. For many it’s a preferred form of transport, but, for a long time, they have paid some of the highest fares in Europe.

Last October saw the launch of a six-month pilot scheme that has seen ScotRail switching to Off Peak All Day, and has significantly reduced the costs, especially for regular travellers, and has caused a lot of people to think again.

It means that, for example, someone travelling between towns or cities in the morning is now paying around half of what they used to, and they are no longer having to worry about which train they get home.

READ MORE: Peak-time ScotRail fares scrapped for further three months

One traveller from Fife I met recently told me how he’d sold a car as a result of the cheaper fares. It was simply not worth keeping a second car parked on the street with all the running costs when the train is now his choice every day.

Scotland is the only part of the UK where this has been trialled. It wasn’t easy to get the policy in place.

My Scottish Green colleagues and I fought for it as part of budget negotiations when we were in government, and we were delighted when we finally managed to secure an agreement to launch the trial.

That pilot was a success and was soon extended by a further three months, taking it until the end of June.

Then, this week, the First Minister announced that the scheme would be extended again for another three months, which will take it to a full 12-month cycle.

The National: John Swinney First Minister John Swinney announced the pilot extension while at Waverly station on May 16

This is a very welcome move and will be celebrated by commuters across Scotland. But the best way that we can shift habits and encourage people out of their cars is through lasting change.

That’s why the Scottish Greens, the rail workers unions, and many others are calling for the Scottish Government to make a long-term commitment and remove peak rail fares permanently.

By making the Off Peak All Day ticket permanent it will send a signal to those who work a regular nine-to-five pattern that rail is now a cost-competitive daily option.

People take time to make longer-term choices about which job to take, their hours of work or where to live. The longer this simple cheaper travel is in place the more commuters will make use of rail.

Being green shouldn’t cost the earth. The best climate policies are the ones that work for our pockets as well as the planet.

There is no better example of this than the introduction of free bus travel for everyone under 22, which has been one of the biggest success stories of devolution.

In the time since we introduced the policy two years ago, almost 750,000 young people have taken 137 million free journeys. It’s transformed bus travel in our country while cutting down on car journeys and supporting families at a really difficult time.

It’s also allowed young people to have a far greater sense of independence. I have teenage sons who have travel cards, and it has been transformative for them and their friends.

The removal of peak rail fares comes from a similar place and, if done permanently, I believe, over time, it can have a similarly positive impact when it comes to changing habits, with our climate and our communities benefitting from it.

In a sense we have no choice. Transport is the biggest source of climate emissions in Scotland and we simply have to get it down. There is no way for us to hit our climate targets without a substantial investment in public transport.

READ MORE: Scottish Government to set out climate crisis plans

It’s clear that measures to reduce private car use like workplace parking levies will be needed in the future. But it will be hard to get acceptance for these changes, unless affordable alternatives exist.

Our rail network is not perfect, far from it. There are parts of our country that are not well served by it, and some areas that are totally cut off. Bus services too have been in a cycle of decline, especially in rural areas.

Yet, when it comes to transport so much of the discussion is dominated by how we can build or expand roads rather than how we can best support alternatives and build an integrated, affordable and high-quality transport system.

When we took ScotRail and the Caledonian Sleeper into public hands it should have been the start of a national conversation about how we build a people’s rail service for the 21st century.

The National:

Lowering the cost of tickets and offering long-term assurances and stability has to be a big part of any vision.

As a Green, I believe that public transport should be free and accessible for everyone. But I appreciate we are not there yet. We have made big strides to cut costs and those need to continue.

I am glad that the First Minister has agreed to extend the scheme. What happens next will be a big test for his government and their commitment to our environment and public transport.

I hope that his next announcement isn’t another short-term offer.

Instead, I hope that we can see off-peak fares being made into a permanent and daily reality, one that will benefit Scotland’s commuters for years to come.