A NEW scheme to provide young people with free bus passes has been branded "a shambles" after officials asked only people using the bus for 'essential travel' apply for it.

Labour has demanded the Scottish Government fix the scheme, and make it easier for every eligible young person entitled to a card to get one.

The scheme will begin from January 31, allowing all 5-21 year-olds to travel for free.

However Transport Scotland had to delay its marketing campaign and has asked only those making essential journeys to apply for a card, claiming the pandemic is causing problems.

MSP Neil Bibby has now written to Transport Secretary Graeme Dey about the issue.

He said: "The roll-out of the free bus pass should have been a good news story for young people but it has been beset with problems, from mixed messages on public health to a complicated application process. "

He said that the Scottish Government should follow the actions of Inverclyde Council, which has coordinated applications through schools to help all children get a card.

Mr Bibby continued: "Every child and young person should have the chance to make the most of free bus travel. Young people shouldn’t face barriers to applying.

“Our young people should be trusted to use the bus pass safely and to make the most of their bus pass when Covid cases come down.

“The SNP must fix this shambles so every eligible child and young person in Scotland can benefit.”

In his letter to the Holyrood minister, Mr Bibby said the project rollout was "simply not acceptable" and that "mixed messages" from the government could put people off applying.

He also asked why an existing young people's card - the Young Scot card - could not be used instead, rather than having people apply for a second pass.

A spokesman for Transport Scotland, which is responsible for the scheme's operation and policy, said: “From January 31st, 5-21 year olds living in Scotland with a valid National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot NEC will be able to travel free on buses. However given the situation with the pandemic, we are asking that only those who rely on the bus for essential journeys apply for cards at this time.

“The Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme will provide easier access to work, education and leisure for nearly a million 5-21 year olds living in Scotland.

"We know some people may not be able to apply online and other application routes are available to help ensure no eligible young person is excluded.

"For example, for those who don’t have the required proofs to apply online, applications can be made direct with individual local authorities which allows for a much wider range of proofs to be used and, in some local council areas, schools are coordinating applications on behalf of their pupils. ”