Over the last year there have been significant funding cuts to bus services. Many people will have seen the impact these changes are having on the ability of older people to get out to key services and to see friends and family.
With this in mind Age UK commissioned two research projects to evaluate the value of buses and concessionary travel for older people. Our recently published report –Getting out and about– summarises the findings of this research.
In short we found that keeping buses both free and sustainable is vital for older people to stay connected and maintain their independence.
The concession allows older people to reach key services, friends and family without having to make difficult financial decisions. Notably, ownership and use of the concessionary bus pass is highest for those on the lowest income.
‘Now I have free bus travel, I don’t need a car. I gave it up…and all the cost and worries of it breaking down and all that’ (Male, 77, town)
The research also found that the bus concession directly affects money management. For instance, having the opportunity to travel when you want to and not be limited to one or two days out the house.
‘I couldn’t afford to travel by bus every day before. I would have bought one ticket for one day and be done with it, but now I find myself just using it whenever.’ (Male, 61, city)
The Government has restated its pledge to fund the national bus concession on a number of occasions. We hope that the Government continues to resist calls from some quarters to restrict the use of the bus pass.
A good bus service
But they also need to recognise that a successful national concessionary travel policy goes hand in hand with having a sustainable bus service that meets the needs of older people.
Our research shows that having good access to bus services, i.e. living close to a bus stop or having a frequent service, greatly increases the likelihood of owning a bus pass and making good use of it. This shows how important having a good service is to being able to get out and about using the bus concession.
Lack of rural options
As you would expect this leads to a difference between the experience of older people living in urban and rural areas. 55% of urban residents use their pass at least once a week compared with 28% of those living in rural areas.
If you don’t have a car in a rural area it is easy to see the problems you will have accessing basic services like the supermarket or hospital. Our research found that people without access to a car were twice as likely to own a bus pass and five times as likely to use it frequently.
So if there isn’t a bus nearby the options quickly become limited. This is particularly important for those at risk of social isolation and loneliness; we’ve highlighted before how being unable to get out and about can impact directly on older people’s health and wellbeing.
Too often bus services are being changed without giving local people a chance to have their say and without alternatives being put in place.
We know the value of local buses, now we need local authorities and transport operator to work together so that they meet the transport needs of older people.