Young people impacted by unfair bus fares, finds new study

Posted: 28 July 2022 | | No comments yet

UWE Bristol’s new study highlights the importance of providing financial support on fares for young people, as costly bus travel could reduce their chances of accessing education, training and employment opportunities.

Young people impacted by unfair bus fares, finds new study

A new study from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has revealed that, despite using buses far more than older age groups and having lower access to a car, young people aged 16-24 face difficulties in accessing free and discounted bus fares.

Bus fare support varies significantly across the UK, with some areas offering no support beyond the age of 16. In areas with support, there is considerable variability in the type of offer provided as well as the ages which are eligible for support.

Experts say that local and national governments need to work with their young population to introduce financial support on fares up until the age of 25. Costly bus travel harms the life chances of young people by reducing opportunities to access education, training and employment.

Researchers from UWE Bristol and sustainable transport charity Sustrans examined current offers for young people across the UK, as well as ambitions for young person fares in the Bus Service Improvement Plans of 79 local transport authorities in England published in November 2021. They discussed what they found with a group of young people who helped them develop a set of proposed policy actions.

The researchers found that, although there has been an increase in ambition to reduce bus fares for young people, the disparity across the UK remains stark.

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Professor Kiron Chatterjee, an expert in travel behaviour, said: “In some local transport authorities, we found minimal or no aspirations for support beyond the age of 18 while in other areas young people are offered free bus travel. According to the bus service improvement plans we reviewed, the upper age eligibility also varies considerably across the UK from 17 up to 29.”

The research team produced a policy briefing which also includes case studies of existing schemes, which will be sent to key decision makers in national and local governments and the transport sector for consideration. This was produced as part of the Transport to Thrive project which aims to build the case for transport policy that better meets the needs of people aged 16-24. Transport to Thrive is part of the Health Foundation’s Young people’s future health inquiry. 

Dr Sarah Collings, Senior Research Fellow in Transport and Young People at UWE Bristol, said: “We are calling on governments to match ambitious offers already seen in some parts of the UK and, in doing so, help their young population to thrive. Young people tell us that this should include introducing free or flat fares such as the free travel offer which is already available to under 22s in Scotland or the 80p flat fare offer for 16-21 year olds in South Yorkshire.”

Andy Cope, Director of Evidence and Insight at Sustrans, said: “Young people are often reliant on buses to get to education or work, and amid historical cuts to services and a cost of living crisis, it’s vital they can access transport. At present there’s a postcode lottery of local and regional discounts for a range of ages, which is not fair and hardly in the spirit of levelling-up. Of course, while walking and cycling have an important role to play, for longer journeys buses can be a lifeline.”

Martina Kane, Policy and Engagement Manager at the Health Foundation, which funded the research, said: “What has emerged is a concerning picture of how unaffordable bus costs hinder young people from accessing these opportunities during this vital period of their development. The Health Foundation is pleased to support this important report which sets out the crucial policy solutions that will improve chances for young people across the country.”

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