Fair Bus Fares for Young People Policy Briefing

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Picture of the metro bus

Young people aged 16-24 use buses more than older age groups and have lower access to a car.

Yet they face a postcode lottery in accessing free and discounted bus fares, a new policy briefing from UWE Bristol and Sustrans finds.

Access to buses can affect the experiences and life-defining opportunities that young people are able to reach as they gain independence.

“Buses are the sole form of transport available where I live. I do not drive and I do not intend to… I therefore need the buses to get anywhere”

Katie, 24, Cornwall

However, for many young people, cost is a barrier to using the bus.

The policy briefing brings together new research and existing evidence and identifies changes that are needed to make buses fairer for young people aged 16-24.

The Fair Bus Fares for Young People policy briefing is produced as part of the project Transport to Thrive which aims to build the case for transport policy that better meets the needs of young people aged 16-24.

Transport to Thrive is a partnership project between the Centre for Transport and Society at UWE Bristol and Sustrans.

It is part of the Health Foundation’s Young People’s Future Health Inquiry. The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.


The Fair Bus Fares for Young People policy briefing has three parts:

  • Part 1 Current situation and future ambition: describes why buses and bus fare support is important to young people. It maps the current offers available across the UK, as well as future ambitions outlined in the Bus Service Improvement Plans of 79 local transport authorities in England.
  • Part 2 Case studies: looks at the policy justification, uptake and impacts of existing bus fare schemes for young people in different parts of the UK.
  • Part 3 Time to act: summarises the policy priorities that bus fare support for young people can help address. It ends with a set of policy ‘asks’ developed with young advisors aged 16-25.

Part 1 Current picture and future ambition

The policy briefing mapped the current offers available to young people across the UK:

There are currently many areas of the UK where there is no support for young people beyond the age of 16.

In areas with an offer, there is little consistency in the type of offer that is available and the upper age limit that is eligible. Offers range from free bus travel (London, Greater Manchester, and Scotland) to discounts ranging from 15-50%.

Very few schemes support young people beyond the age of 18. Notable exceptions to this include Scotland where bus travel is free for under 22s and West Yorkshire where 19-25s receive a 33% multi-operator discount (Map 2).

The report also mapped the future ambition for bus fare support for young people according to Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIP) – these are the plans that the 79 Local Transport Authorities in England (outside London) were asked to produce in November 2021 in order to access government funding for buses.

BSIP ambitions and recent policy developments in Scotland and Wales show increasing recognition of the needs of young people over the age of 16 in relation to bus fares. However, there is still little consistency in age criteria and offer-type.

“The price should be the same for everyone.”

Poppy, 16-24

“Being a young person doesn’t stop when you are 18”

Sara, 20, West Yorkshire

“Multiple offers and prices make fares confusing. Annual passes are only viable with consistent usage. Flat fares are the most obvious and simplest solutions.”

Sunshine, 16, North Wales

Part 2 Case Studies

The policy briefing looked at four existing schemes available to young people beyond the age of 16 (18-21 Zoom Beyond, South Yorkshire; 16+ Zip Pass, London; 16-25 MCard, West Yorkshire; Free travel for Under 22s, Scotland).

With few schemes available to young people over the age of 16, these case studies offered rare and valuable insights:

  • Bus fare support for young people could help to address multiple policy priorities including supporting access to opportunities, reducing inequalities and shifting travel behaviour away from the car.
  • There is a high demand for bus fare support beyond 16 and 18. For example, in London, a study found 98% of 16-18 year olds said free transport was important to them*.
  • Schemes can have wide benefits to young people and can enhance inclusion of young people from all backgrounds, helping to level the playing field by removing cost as a barrier to mobility.

Part 3 Time to act

Recent policy developments across the UK, present an opportunity to make bus fares fairer for young people.

We ask national governments to:

Set out a minimum offer for young people aged up to 25 and to support local transport authorities to move towards this.

We ask any transport authority or operator developing their offer to:

• Offer flat fares to young people up to the age of 25 years
• Align offers across authority boundaries
• Work with young people to develop offers to help ensure available support meets their needs
• Collect and share evaluation data to show how these schemes meet policy objectives

* Partnership for Young London. “Free Transport Means Everything to Me”: Understanding the impact of the suspension of free travel on under-18s. Funded by Trust for London, 2020

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