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Buses hit the headlines!

In a week where issues affecting bus passengers in England have made more national news than rail passengers (stop the press!) it’s probably worth reflecting on what two groups of passengers value most from their bus service.

We heard Governments say this week that legislation renews the reimbursement arrangements between local authorities and operators as current legislation expires in May 2018. The new legislation won’t have an expiry date on it.

Protecting free travel on off-peak local bus services through the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme will remove any uncertainty for those who rely on it.

We know from our first ever piece of bus passenger research, published in July 2009 (England-Wide Concessionary Bus Travel: The Passenger Perspective), that passengers cherish the scheme. Concessionary pass-holders told us they recognise the value of not having to pay to use the bus. This makes it easier for older and disabled people to get out of the house, visit friends and relatives, go shopping and take advantage of sport, leisure and recreation opportunities. Many making journeys they wouldn’t have. In fact some told us they leave their car behind, preferring to take the bus.

No surprise then that 94 per cent of concessionary pass holders are satisfied with their local bus service, compared to 88 per cent overall, as reported in our latest Bus Passenger Survey!

At the other end of the age spectrum we heard that the opposition announced an ambition to provide free bus travel to under 25s, but only where transport authorities introduce a bus franchising scheme or move to public ownership of their local bus services.

Steering clear of the politics around this announcement, it’s worth reflecting that young people use the bus more than any other single group of passengers. Yet despite the importance of bus to younger people our Bus Passenger Survey shows that they are also the least satisfied group of passengers.

Our February 2018 research Using the bus: what young people think focused on the views and experiences of young people aged 14-19 years old. In many respects young people want the same thing from their bus journey that we all want; ranking value for money, punctuality and reliability as priorities for improvements.

So for any politician reading this (and anybody else out there come to think of it!) the manifesto for young bus passengers was strikingly clear from our research:

• they don’t feel services are designed with them in mind or that enough is being done to encourage them and make them feel valued
• not knowing how the system works or what to do is a barrier and a source of anxiety about ‘getting it right’
• improving the journey experience is important; young people notice poor quality provision
• there is a need to design systems better; learning from other industries in the way they appeal to young people
• fares for young people are confusing and inconsistent.

We’ve used our insight for young passengers to encourage transport authorities and operators in areas such as Merseyside and West Yorkshire to introduce easy-to-understand and easy-to-use fare deals for young people, which has produced growth in the numbers of young people travelling as well as improved satisfaction….win win!

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