Buses matter to young people – and young people should matter to us

School children on the bus

Young people are among the biggest users of bus services

Buses matter to young people. This past year, we have seen just how much. Nationwide polling by UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) of 65,000 young people in 2011, and 250,000 young people in 2012, identified ‘Public transport: Cheaper, better, accessible’ as a priority concern. Members of the UKYP at their annual sitting in the House of Commons decided that, of all the issues raised by young people, public transport should be the key focus of campaigning in 2012.

Since then, we have seen the newly formed Youth Select Committee – made up entirely of young people – choose public transport as the topic for their inaugural inquiry, something that pteg has been delighted to be a part of.

For most young people, the bus represents their main experience of public transport. The bus enables young people to access a whole host of valuable opportunities, from attainment–boosting after school clubs and weekend jobs, to visiting friends and participating in sports. These opportunities are vital to their growth and development.

Young people are already among the biggest users of buses, but they also represent the future market for bus travel. More progressive transport authorities and operators are recognising the need to cultivate this young market.

Young people and Norman Baker MP in Committee Room

Young campaigners meet with Transport Minister Norman Baker earlier this year

Furthermore, they are recognising that young people can be powerful advocates for bus travel when we get it right – or damning critics when we get it wrong. In the age of social media, young people’s experiences – whether good or bad – have the potential to spread rapidly to their peers, their extended networks and beyond. This, combined with growing calls for increasing youth participation in decision-making (such as the Government’s ‘Positive for Youth’ statement), means that the voice of young people has never been louder, or more influential.

At local level, transport authorities and operators alike can expect to be increasingly held to account by young people for the decisions they make. This is particularly likely given that young people have been  hard hit by transport spending cuts. In efforts to balance budgets, concessionary fares schemes for this group have been cut back, whilst the evening and weekend bus services they value are often the first to disappear when times are tough.

Whilst recognising that the current spending environment is difficult, and that unpopular decisions must sometimes be made to protect services for the wider community, we believe there is still much that transport authorities and operators can do to develop a good offer on bus for young people. Our new report, ‘Moving on: Working towards a better public transport offer for young people in tough times’ aims to present ideas and generate discussion around what such an offer could include.

In developing an offer, ‘Moving on’ urges transport authorities and operators to keep three key messages in mind.

1. The importance of actively engaging young people in the process

We know that many young people are passionate about improving public transport and have some great ideas about how this can be achieved. Getting to realistic solutions means working with young people to generate a dialogue about what can practically be done. It’s about developing an offer with – rather than for – young people.

Young people on a sofa

Develop an offer with – rather than for – young people

Involving young people in this way doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or time and, ultimately, is likely to save money by ensuring what is provided has the buy-in of those that it is aimed at. Listening to, and acting on, the suggestions of young passengers makes it more likely that they will use and value bus services now and in future.

2. The need to develop a package of measures

There is no silver bullet for improving bus services for young people. The offer needs to address the need for bus services that are available, affordable, accessible and acceptable – the cornerstones of any socially inclusive transport service. Only in addressing each of these can we hope to develop a service that enables young people to access the opportunities that will allow them to move forward in their lives.

In developing a package, it is also important to recognise the differences and similarities in the needs of young people of different ages. One size definitely does not fit all young people. For this reason, the ideas in our report are presented in four age categories – under 5s, 5 to 11 year olds, 11 to 16 year olds and post 16.

3. Maintain a focus on simplicity

Simplicity in fares, networks and information benefit all passengers.

We know that young people are frequently left baffled by the intricacies and eccentricities of bus service delivery outside London. It is important to work with young people to help them get to grips with how the system works, but also to try and eliminate unnecessary complexity where possible.

On fares, for example, evidence shows that young people value flat, simple and consistent offers. They have campaigned independently to secure such offers in their areas and experience suggests that, once in place, they result in young people making more journeys. One of our report’s case studies, for example, describes how a bus company introduced a new service to meet the extra demand generated by the introduction of a flat, simple and consistent fare for young people.

We hope that the key messages of this report – to work with young people to develop simple packages of measures – and the ideas it contains can be used as a starting point for discussions which will ultimately result in an offer on bus that works for young people in your area. Working with young people to develop such an offer could help build a loyalty to public transport that lasts a lifetime.

Buses matter to young people – and young people should matter to us.

Rebecca Fuller

Policy and Research Advisor, pteg

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