In this guest blog post, Claire Haigh, Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, argues that the provision of accessible affordable public transport must be a priority.
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)
Councils subsidise bus services in places where they are not commercially viable but are vital to the local community.
Cuts to bus services will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
Older and disabled people have hugely benefited from free bus travel and often rely on public transport to do shopping, get to GP and hospital appointments and visit friends.
But there is no point having a free pass if there are no buses to get on.
Cutting bus routes could lead to people losing their only independent access to transport. If you live in the countryside you will be doubly disadvantaged because poor bus provision in rural areas already causes isolation.
Only yesterday the government was celebrating significant savings from “cutting waste, and not from cutting services”. This is clearly not always going to be the case.
The government must recognise the many benefits of accessible public transport for older people.
New ways to pool budgets or contract bus services need to be found so that we can ease the impact of cuts to the people who need them the most.