The relationship between bus operators and young passengers has often been, shall we say, strained. Young people’s grievances about bus driver attitudes, bus service availability and fares are frequently aired and rightly so – like all passengers they deserve a good service.
However, we hear far less frequently about the issues and difficulties bus drivers and operators face in providing a service that meets the demands of young people whilst balancing the needs of all passengers and also turning a profit.
In particular, young people themselves are often unaware of these constraints and struggle with understanding the idiosyncrasies of a system where, for example, the same journey can cost more in one direction than the other. Or where the age at which you pay adult fares varies from place to place. Or where there’s no bus service from the out of town cinema complex late at night. Surely those things are easy to fix?
Sadly not, but we can’t blame young people for trying. What’s needed is a dialogue between young people and the transport sector to promote understanding on both sides. We should applaud the optimism and ideas of young people but also ensure that they are able to make workable suggestions and have realistic expectations of what can be achieved and how quickly.
Promoting this kind of conversation was one of the aims of a recent workshop convened by the cross-sector ‘Taking forward travel and transport for children and young people’ group – of which pteg is a member alongside the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), the Community Transport Association, local and central government representatives and young people’s agencies.
The workshop, held at the offices of CPT, bought together almost 50 stakeholders, including bus operators, young people, government departments and transport authorities, to discuss bus travel and formulate workable solutions for how it could be made better.
We heard from young people who were passionate about improving the bus services that they rely on to get around. The fact that young people chose cheaper bus fares as one of the UK Youth Parliament’s three campaigning priorities for 2009/10 shows the strength of feeling in this area.
Meanwhile, young people were able to hear views from the other side of the fence as bus operators, local authorities and central government put forward the opportunities and challenges as they saw them. All parties got together in mixed workshops to thrash out ideas, solutions and barriers. We saw the beginnings of a national level conversation between the two sides, with both taking the time to listen and understand the other’s point of view.
One of the findings from the day was that young people wanted to engage more effectively with bus operators and transport authorities, armed with a better understanding of the context in which they operate. This insight would enable them to devise workable proposals for change rather than ‘shopping lists’ filled with demands that must inevitably be toned down, with all the disappointment this entails.
At the same time, it emerged that the transport sector is frequently left confused by the workings of the youth sector. They were unsure how to reach young people that they could consult with locally and nationally on a consistent and ongoing basis. Many were unaware, for example that their local Member of Youth Parliament (MYP) could provide a direct link to local, county and national level contacts (visit http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/ for more details). The event provided an opportunity to meet MYPs as well as representatives from other bodies such as the National Children’s Bureau and the British Youth Council – hopefully some valuable and lasting connections were forged along the way.
The Taking Forward Transport group are committed to ensuring that the conversation continues between young people and the transport sector as we look at how the ideas from the event can be put into action. Particular areas of focus will be how we can work together towards a simpler, more consistent and transparent approach to child fares and how we can better collate and share all the many excellent examples of good practice that came to light during the workshop.
This article began by suggesting that young people are not always aware of the constraints transport providers face. It is also the case that they, and the wider community, are not always aware of the good work bus operators and transport authorities do in improving the experience of bus travel for young people. This too should form part of any well balanced national dialogue. Let’s keep the conversation flowing.
This article first appeared in Coach and Bus Week.