DESPITE some early teething issues, one year on, over 60 per cent of young people now have the National Entitlement Card and can travel anywhere in Scotland on the bus for free.

Well over half a million young people are now using the scheme with over 45 million journeys taken so far.

It has boosted bus services too, especially given that bus patronage has in general been slow to return back to pre-pandemic levels.

Some bus companies have even been increasing the number of services to meet the demand.

Nowhere else in the UK has offered free travel to young people on this scale, it has been a ground breaking initiative and the results have been fascinating to watch.

As well as being a great way to save money, I’ve also seen how it has built up the confidence and independence of teenagers to use public transport.

Many young people from Alloa, Clackmannan and the smaller villages feel isolated from each other and reliant on car lifts.

The card has given them the ability to hop on a bus and meet up easily; it’s developing a habit forming life skill that will help break future generation’s dependence on cars.

When the Greens first proposed free bus travel for under 22s we were inspired by the work of Callander Youth Project.

They showed how isolation in rural areas can deeply affect the happiness and chances that young people have, and how opening up free and better public transport can get people connected with each other and create fresh opportunities.

It’s still early days, but I’m hearing more stories about how this is now happening as a result of the scheme.

While the Under 22s scheme has been a resounding success, unfortunately the quality of the bus services that connect communities are in many cases letting us badly down.

Last weekend saw another McGill's bus go up in smoke by the side of the near Stirling.

Passengers are also reporting regular last minute cancellations of services – including the 51 and 52 service that’s critical to link folks onto the 202 route to Kinross.

On Wednesday 31st alone, the 51 bus had 34 cancellations. There are incredible community activists monitoring services in Clacks, and it’s clear we need to see action to improve our buses, fast.

I’m grateful that following public pressure, McGill's have agreed to meet with me to discuss these critical issues, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to agree on improvements.

But, with millions of pounds of public money going directly into the hands of private companies and their shareholders, I can understand why my constituents are frustrated with the services on offer.

Now is the time for radical reform of Scotland’s buses and I’m excited that this year we’ll see the launch of the Community Bus Fund and the introduction of new regulations that allow local authorities to franchise their own bus services.

With these tools, we could even do something really incredible in the Forth Valley – with Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire Councils coming together to offer a Forth-wide municipal bus company.

We need to start seeing services run for people, not for profit. And I can’t wait for us to get started.