Employment

Free bus travel could lift young people out of poverty and unpick cost of living crisis. Here's how

We’re calling on the next government to introduce free bus travel in England for those aged 23 and under. Here’s why

A bus on Manchester’s new Bee Network

A bus on Manchester’s new Bee Network. Image: Gerard Noonan / Alamy Stock Photo

We all know how expensive public transport is in England. It’s so expensive people fly out of the country and back in because it’s cheaper than taking a train.

But the sky-high costs of trains and buses are not only harming the environment, as people drive or even fly to their destinations – it’s keeping people in poverty during the cost of living crisis.

Last year the Social Market Foundation found that five million of the 13 million people in poverty would be lifted above the poverty line if you took away their transport costs. That’s 8% of the British population.

As part of our Blueprint for Change, the Big Issue is calling on the new government to introduce free bus travel in England for those 23 and under – people for who public transport costs are a real barrier to work.

This would address that issue and it’s better for the environment. As an increased number of bus services leave the private sector – as in Manchester – this becomes easier to implement. 

This scheme already functions and delivers in Scotland, with more than 100 million journeys made since the Scottish government introduced free bus travel for under 22s in January 2022. What’s more, a report last year found more than a third (34%) of cardholders have been able to access new opportunities.

The Poverty Alliance, which campaigned for the scheme and now wants to see it extended, said it has given people more freedom in their lives. 

Policy and campaigns manager Ruth Boyle told the Big Issue: “When public transport is affordable and accessible it gives people more freedom in their lives. It can be a key that unlocks access to jobs, education, training, childcare, healthcare and other public services, and stronger community connections.

“People in Scotland have told us how much the under-22s’ concessionary bus travel scheme has helped them, and we are pushing for the Scottish government to expand free bus travel even further – starting with people on low-income social security.

“One lesson from Scotland is that we also need investment to make sure buses run where people want, when people want – especially in rural areas. That’s why we have supported moves to bring buses back under regulation and to expand public ownership. We need to put passengers before profit.”

In England the government did introduce a £2 single fare cap on buses to help with the cost of living in 2023, a cost that has since gone up to £2.50. But that scheme ends in November.

And as our reporter discovered in 2022, permanent measures are needed to make bus journeys more accessible.

Silviya Barrett from the Campaign for Better Transport said: “A lack of access to good quality, reliable and affordable public transport is undoubtably a barrier to employment for many young people. 

“The introduction of the temporary £2 single bus fare in England has helped make bus travel more affordable and helped to boost passenger numbers, but the scheme is due to end this year. We’d like to see bus fares remain affordable to young people with the introduction of discounted flat fares for children and young people under 22 across England.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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