2022 is now well underway and I'd like to wish all readers a Happy and Healthy New Year.

I'm writing this at home with a bout of Covid and while it's worrying that cases are on the rise, the vaccine has protected most of us from the devastating ill health we saw in the early days of the pandemic.

I've got a sense of optimism for the year ahead, but we'll also need to fight hard for the kind of future and recovery from Covid that we want.

Firstly, I'm really excited about the opportunities that are coming at the end of January for young people and their families with the roll out of free bus travel for Under 22s.

We listened to young people before agreeing this policy with the Scottish Government. It was clear many of them were trapped and unable to access jobs without paying a huge amount on travel every week.

Opportunities to access education, volunteering or just meeting up with friends were hard for some and impossible for others. We have all seen how liberating free travel has been for our older generations, the time has come to extend concessionary travel to young people.

Unfortunately, Covid is still pinning many of us back in our homes, so the launch of the free travel scheme on the January 31 will be lower key than we had hoped for.

Those who use the bus for essential travel are encouraged to come forward first and apply for a new National Entitlement Travel Card or an upgraded Young Scot card with updated parental permissions.

Young people (or their parents if under 16) can apply for the card right now online at getyournec.scot or contact Clackmannanshire Council direct. The card will enable under 22s to travel anywhere in Scotland on a bus for free.

This is going to benefit hundreds of young people across Clacks but of course you need a bus service in the first place.

I was really disappointed that First Group decided to pull the X53 service from Kinross via Tillicoultry to Stirling, especially given the extension of free bus travel will inevitably increase numbers using local services.

Thankfully Perth and Kinross Council have stepped in to provide a partial replacement of the X53 route from Monday this week. It is running from Tillicoultry to Kinross, the timetable is only from 9am – 2pm daily.

This is better than nothing, but once again a council has had to step in to support a service where a private company has failed to serve it's rural customers.

Instead, First have chosen to prioritise its more lucrative flagship routes, just as Stagecoach did when the previous 23 service was cut the year before.

We need change and in government Greens have prioritised the creation of a Community Bus Fund, to help councils plan for how they could run their own public services in the future.

This won't be easy, but a return to affordable public transport run in the public interest must be the vision we aim for as we recover from Covid.