Baroness Randerson: It’s time to get young people on the buses
Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson, Baroness Randerson writes ahead of her House of Lords question today on 'Introducing a standard system of concessionary fares for young people travelling by bus in England'.
Concessionary fares for older people have been so successful that they are regarded as untouchable by the Conservative Government, keen to protect pensioners from the cuts suffered by the rest of the population. So why not apply a similar scheme to young people, who have received a much tougher deal from this Government and who rely on bus services more than the rest of us. That is why I am pushing the Government this week to support the Liberal Democrat policy to introduce a Government funded Youth Discount Card, entitling all 16-21 year olds to a two thirds discount on bus fares.
Young people take the bus for 15% of their journeys, more than twice the usage of all other ages. For many of them there is no choice as they are not old enough to drive but surveys show that they tend to be more enthusiastic bus travellers than the rest of us, because it is a step to greater independence. The bus is a vital lifeline to education and training, to employment, as well as to their social life.
Travel costs are a major factor for young people, particularly for those from poorer homes and those living in rural areas because journeys tend to be longer. NUS research shows almost half of students from rural areas were spending over £20 per week on travel. Between 2006 and 2013, bus fares increased by 30%, well ahead of inflation. So young people are being priced out of education, and out of jobs. That is simply unacceptable.
Young people in London benefit from free travel and one third of local authorities outside London provide some sort of concession for 16 – 18 year olds. In addition, some bus companies provide their own reduced fares for young people as part of their commercial offer. But there is no obligation on either local authorities or bus operators and the system is patchy and uneven. In some areas there is no provision at all for reduced fares. Students sitting in the same class in a local college will have paid very different fares to get there depending on which of the surrounding local authorities they live in.
There are other spin off benefits from youth concessionary travel. It encourages young people to develop the habit of bus travel and hopefully it will stay with them for life, reducing their reliance on cars. This has obvious benefits for the environment and air pollution levels (and therefore health), as well as reducing traffic congestion. Bus operators benefit too, as they have done from pensioners passengers, gaining a steady flow of regular travellers. And that helps us all as rising bus usage keeps more buses on the road, at a time when deep cuts to local government funding threaten many bus services.
It is time for a fairer system and case studies have shown it is affordable. In Wales, as a condition of their agreement to support the Welsh Labour Government’s budget, Lib Dem Assembly Members ensured that a similar scheme was introduced last year across the country. Currently 16 and 17 year olds in Wales are entitled to a one third discount and we are campaigning to extend this to all 19-24 year olds in Higher Education.
The benefits are obvious. Young people deserve a decent start in life. They should not be shut out of education, job seeking or employment, by the cost of travel. Older people have been given the benefits of free bus travel for many years now, it is time that young people were given the same opportunities.
Baroness Randerson is the Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson