Greener Journeys’ campaign to safeguard the older persons bus pass continues to gain momentum

 

Pictured: Baroness Kramer (far left) at the Lib Dem fringe

 

Over recent years, there has been much debate in the media and across the political spectrum about whether older and disabled people should be entitled to free bus travel. In an age of austerity is this really something we can afford? Should it be means tested? Shouldn’t we be focussing on our young people instead?

The policy is extremely popular, and has resulted in a big increase in bus travel. Last year the concessionary travel schemes in Britain delivered more than 1.2 billion journeys to 12 million pass holders. It is widely recognised that free bus travel is very important in enabling many older people and people with disabilities to lead more active and fulfilling lives. However, what has been missing until now is an understanding of the value these schemes deliver for the wider economy and for the taxpayer.

We at Greener Journeys believe that it is vitally important that the full impacts of concessionary travel schemes are understood. We need to avoid unintended consequences that would arise if such schemes were to be withdrawn or not supported. So we commissioned KPMG LLP to quantify the costs and benefits of the concessionary travel schemes in Britain.

KPMG found that every £1 spent on the bus pass generates at least £2.87 of benefits, meaning taking the bus pass away would cost UK plc considerably in excess of £1.7bn in economic benefits a year. This constitutes high value for money according to Department for Transport guidance – and a benefit that we as a country cannot afford to lose.

The research clearly demonstrated the manifold benefits the bus pass has for older people and for all of us. As a result of the bus pass older people are more active; in family life, in their communities, as well as physically and mentally. Such activity is vitally important for health and wellbeing, for strong family networks, and, crucially, for local communities and the economy. Vital sectors such as volunteering are heavily reliant on older people to survive. The research also showed that all road users were better off as a result of the schemes, with significant benefits arising from improved services, road decongestion and environmental benefits.

The research makes it even clearer that protecting the bus pass and its manifold benefits must be a priority.

Consequently, over the past few months Greener Journeys has been building a coalition of supporters to campaign for just that.

The coalition continues to grow, with Age UK, Gransnet, the Royal Voluntary Service, Passenger Focus, Bus Users UK and the National Pensioners Convention just a few of the many that have voiced their support for our bus pass campaign so far.

The campaign has also taken on a number of forms.

The research was officially launched at an event at the Houses of Parliament, drawing together over 75 key influencers in the debate to hear and discuss its findings. Our host, Transport Select Committee member, Karen Lumley MP spoke passionately about the importance of the bus pass to her constituents. Jane Vass, head of public policy at Age UK, highlighted the feedback she receives from her members about how vital the bus pass is to their lives. Jon Lamonte, chief executive of Transport for Greater Manchester, laid out why businesses and city centres relied so heavily on the bus pass, with managing director of UK Bus at FirstGroup Giles Fearnley detailing the real importance of connecting older people in rural areas. Our associated media campaign to highlight the publication of the research resulted in coverage in The Guardian and on BBC’s The One Show alongside many other outlets.

The following week Greener Journeys attended the annual transport forum of the National Pensioners Convention to address over 80 attendees on the findings of the research, resulting in resounding support for its conclusions and a clamour for copies of the report.

More recently Greener Journeys has been running a series of events at the conferences of the main political parties to discuss the question ‘Living longer: How will we keep Britain moving?’. At each event expert panels have discussed the benefits that free travel brings to older people and to the UK economy, as well as how we can continue to ensure that they keep benefitting our economy.

Greener Journeys was fortunate enough to have three government ministers as well as the shadow secretary of state speaking at our events; with transport ministers Robert Goodwill and John Hayes at our Conservative fringe, transport minister Baroness Kramer at our Liberal Democrat fringe, and shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh at our Labour fringe.

It was particularly heartening to see the cross-party support for the bus pass that emerged. Each minister and shadow minister thanked Greener Journeys for their contribution to the debate, outlining their support for the bus pass and recognition of its socio-economic significance.

At each fringe there was also important recognition, however, that support of the status quo was not enough on its own.

At the Liberal Democrats, Baroness Kramer indicated she hoped her successor would look at the arrangements for concessionary reimbursement which she said were costly
and created uncertainty.

At the Conservatives, John Hayes highlighted two areas he wanted to address: both access to bus services overall, particularly in rural areas, and secondly the need for the government to be dynamic and responsive to changes in circumstances, with Robert Goodwill outlining some of the specific funding challenges facing local authorities, with some able to afford concessionary bus passes for older people but not the buses to accommodate them.

At Labour, Mary Creagh echoed those concerns that some older people living in rural areas faced increasing isolation due to reductions in bus funding and services, adding that in some areas – such as Lincolnshire – only two-thirds of people had taken up the benefit, a statistic she wanted to address.

At each fringe a range of additional speakers added their valuable voices to the debate.

At Labour, Jon Lamonte highlighted the role buses played in Manchester, explaining that they significantly outnumbered other forms of transport and had a clear influence over old people’s access to many important services as well as clear economic benefits to his local business community.

At the Conservatives, David Brown, chief executive of Go-Ahead emphasised the need to ensure the bus pass scheme is properly funded so that bus operators were be no better-off and no worse-off as a result of delivering the scheme. Currently, he outlined there was a £200m deficit in terms of what the repayments should be from local authorities across the UK, due in part to the reimbursement formula that focuses largely on what was available rather than the principle.

At the Liberal Democrats, Giles Fearnley emphasised the impact on other bus services should support for the bus pass be withdrawn, particularly highlighting the after-morning peak services that would be badly affected and the potentially “devastating” impact on rural areas.

At each fringe Age UK – excellently represented by public affairs manager Mike Smith at Labour and Liberal Democrats, and Jane Vass at Conservatives – spoke passionately on the particular importance the bus pass played in older people avoiding loneliness. Mike highlighted that researched shows that loneliness can have equivalent health impacts to smoking, and that it was a “false economy” to assume that cutting bus passes saved money.

The take-out of the events was clear: we cannot afford not to keep the bus pass.

It is absolutely crucial that the next government, and its successors, safeguard the concessionary travel scheme. Any cuts to funding would mean the UK not only loses out on billions of pounds of economic benefits, but that older people would be isolated from society and their communities.

Provided the scheme has the funding that it needs, the UK will have a stronger economy, a society in which everyone can take part and a cleaner environment.

The success of the campaign thus far has redoubled our commitment to the cause, and it is by no means nearing an end. We continue to recruit new supporters and coalition members, with further media and stakeholder campaigns to raise awareness and drive support for the key role the bus pass plays in so many lives, and in so many communities coming up soon. Do get in touch with Greener Journeys if you would like to join us.

For further information about the campaign visit www.greenerjourneys.com/bus-pass

 

Pictured: John Hayes (centre) and Robert Goodwill (far right) at the Conservative fringe


Pictured: Mary Creagh (second from right) at the Labour fringe

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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