Guest blog – Catch the Bus Week: the benefits for all

Classic Bristol busesToday’s blog is from Claire Haigh, Chief Executive at Greener Journeys- she discusses how buses are about more than just getting somewhere.

This summer, the industry-wide initiative, Catch the Bus Week will once again roll out across the country. Following the success of last year’s campaign, we at Greener Journeys can’t wait for another fantastic campaign – this time during a glorious summer (we’re sure!). The event will run from 29 June to 5 July, giving the Great British public even more of an incentive to get out of the car and walk to the bus stop. Greener Journeys is a campaign dedicated to promoting the value of the bus throughout our communities, and during Catch the Bus Week (CTBW), our campaign goes into overdrive as we coordinate activity from the whole bus world to get people out of cars and onto the bus!

But Catch the Bus Week is not just about inspiring people to make sustainable travel choices; it is also an opportunity to celebrate the vital role of the bus in connecting the most vulnerable in society with the community around them. This year, our campaign will highlight the huge social value of the bus by showing that the bus is a community and wellbeing enabler, allowing people to visit their loved ones, go to the shops, or get to volunteering opportunities.

Loneliness amongst older people is a problem all year round. Age UK research found that around one million people aged 65 or over in the UK (10%) say they always or often feel lonely. The bus network in the UK offers a lifeline for older people who may otherwise be isolated from friends, family and the local community, not least because of the concessionary travel scheme that Greener Journeys has campaigned tirelessly to protect. Greener Journeys’ research has found that for every £1 spent in funding concessionary travel, the bus pass generates £2.87 in benefits. It was therefore wonderful to see all of the main parties pledge their support for the bus pass in the run up to the election in May.

With loneliness amongst older people such a pressing issue here in the UK, Catch the Bus Week is the perfect opportunity to get people, young and old, onto the bus, and out into the community. Last year almost 100 bus companies, passenger organisations and local authorities all came together to run events, ticket giveaways and community engagement campaigns across the country. Many MPs also got involved by hopping on a bus and holding their surgeries, tweeting and blogging about #CTBW and speaking about the bus to their local media.

Indeed, Catch the Bus Week is a week in which we celebrate the bus as a vital service, underpinning societies, connecting loved ones and ensuring everyone can get out and about. It is also about galvanising the whole bus community, from bus operators to bus pass holders. So please get involved to make this the best Catch the Bus Week yet! Why not hop on a bus to visit someone you haven’t seen in a while, pick up something tasty from the shop, or help out at a local charity shop!

Also published by Age UK today- ‘Public transport fails the oldest and most vulnerable.’ To find out more about Age UK’s position on transport services for older people, visit our website.

Poor connections – transport and poverty

New research from the Campaign for Better Transport emphasises the impact poor transport has on people on low incomes.  This is a growing concern as funding cuts continue to affect public transport.

Impact of poor public transport

They found that those on low incomes are more reliant on bus services with half of the poorest fifth of the population not having a car. Low income communities also tend to have higher exposure to the negative impacts of transport, including being at greater risk of being killed or seriously injured on the roads.

We know that the bus concession allows older people to reach key services, friends and family without having to make difficult financial decisions. But this obviously goes hand in hand with having good bus services. (See recent blog – Keeping bus services free and reliable.)

The impact poor transport has on people’s lives is brought to life in the research by Campaign for Better Transport by an in-depth case study of the Burbank Estate in Hartlepool.

A mile away from the town centre, some residents from the Estate can walk to use the shops and services they need. But many  have to rely on a bus that runs only three days a week or incur the expense of taxis.

Losing a regular bus service

A regular bus service that residents in Burbank relied on has recently been changed. Stephen, who has lived in Burbank most of his life, is now retired and has severe arthritis, commented:

“A lot of people blame the Council, but it is not their fault – the Central Government deficit has been passed on, but it’s frustrating, they didn’t need to be so stringent. The trouble is that the decision isn’t taken by people that live around here. They are managers and have cars. Those affected are the poor people who can’t afford cars”

Two things jump out from this comment. First that owning a car has become a necessity. The locations of shops and services are often based on the assumption that we all own a car. Secondly, that the Council needs to do more to listen and find solutions that meet people’s transport needs.

Government inquiry

The Environmental Audit Committee has just launched an inquiry covering some of these issues. They plan to examine whether Government policy is providing the transport infrastructure people need to get access to key services.

Age UK will be responding and would like to hear about your experiences.

Do you live in a ‘transport desert’? Have you recently lost the public transport you relied on, whether it is a bus or ring-and-ride? Let us know your views by leaving a comment below or emailing gemma.bradshaw@ageuk.org.uk

Age UK is committed to improving standards for people in later life. We seek to influence decision makers by conducting social and economic analysis, developing public policy proposals and shaping policy agendas in a wide range of areas. Find out more about our public policy work 

Keeping bus services free and sustainable

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.

Money management

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)

Continue reading “Keeping bus services free and sustainable”

Transport Committee warns about impact of bus spending cuts

MPs have reiterated Age UK’s concern that cuts to subsidies that keep bus routes open will have a huge impact on older people.

In the Transport Committee’s report Bus Services after the Spending Review they warn that a combination of spending cuts is creating the “greatest financial challenge for the English bus industry for a generation”.

The changes include reduction in local authorities’ revenue expenditure, changes to the Department for Transport’s concessionary fares reimbursement guidance, and a 20% reduction in Bus Spending Operators Grant.

Free local bus travel is a lifeline for many older and disabled people who use it to get to the GP or hospital appointment, to go shopping and visit friends. Cutting bus routes leads many to lose their only independent access to transport.

The Committee are calling on government to monitor and review the impact of spending cuts.

They also made a series of practical suggestions for local authorities, including:

  • Local people should have the opportunity to voice their opinion if the local authority or integrated transport authority proposes significant changes to bus services that it supports.
  • Greater partnership working between local authorities, bus operators and community transport operators will be necessary post-Spending Review, in order to better utilise diminished resources.

In the rush to meet short terms spending challenges local authorities should not ignore the benefits of working with local people to find a better solution to transport problems. For instance, finding innovative uses for existing transport like school buses and community transport.

The Committee also suggests the government should legislate to permit the use of the concessionary pass on a wider use of community transport schemes.

It is important that the increasing role of community transport is recognised. Where private travel is not possible and the public transport system does not fully serve the needs of older people in the area, we believe local authorities should provide financial support towards community transport or taxis.

As we know, there is little point in having a free pass if there are insufficient buses to use.