Young people not in work or education could be in line for free bus travel after leading bus operators pledged to back a plan aimed at helping the under-25s back to work.
The scheme, already backed by the big five transport firms who run 70% of the UK bus services, would offer limited free or heavily discounted travel to Britain’s one million-plus Neets – young people not in education, employment or training.
The details are yet to be agreed nationwide but should enable the record numbers of young unemployed to benefit from some kind of assistance by mid-autumn – likely a voucher scheme, albeit still far less generous than the passes enjoyed by all over-65s.
The proposals come from Greener Journeys – a campaign funded by Arriva, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead and Stagecoach. National Express has also agreed to back the scheme. The costs would be paid from the bus operators’ existing revenues and grants rather than new funding, although government help will be needed to design effective identification of eligible passengers.
Brian Souter, the chief executive of Stagecoach, said: “The discounted travel scheme being developed could make the vital difference between a life of worklessness and getting a job, helping more young people to make a better start in life.”
While taxpayers would not directly fund the scheme, the operators are keen to make the point that bus travel is a key engine of growth for the beleaguered economy, after grants for bus service operators were cut in the coalition’s spending reviews.
A study published on Tuesday by the University of Leeds Institute of Transport Studies found that commuters using buses generate £64bn of economic output in their work, and that 1 in 10 commuters are completely reliant on buses for their jobs. Young people, with limited financial resources and facing prohibitive car insurance premiums, are particularly dependant on buses, with one in two students frequent users.
The report’s author, Prof Peter Mackie, said buses were a “vital cog” adding that there was “a strong connection between the humdrum, everyday bus and the functioning of a sophisticated economy and society”.
Mackie said that he believed free travel would be “better targeted” at the under-25s than the older generation “in principle, although the political realities are such that you can’t”.
Claire Haigh, the chief executive of Greener Journeys, said the report underlined the value of buses in “oiling the wheels of the economy as well as reducing carbon emissions, helping maintain the fabric of our communities and providing essential transport for the 25% of households without a car”.
Transport minister Norman Baker said: “I have been encouraging bus operators to look at the fare deals they can offer to young people looking for work or attending training courses, so I am pleased that they are considering this.
“This would benefit the industry as well as job seekers as these young people are not only a key section of the market – they are the future of the local bus industry.”