Free bus passes for young and old?
By Diane Cooke
Free bus passes are always a controversial issue. On the one hand, they benefit the recipients and thousands of senior Brits can get out and about on the cheap. On the other, someone has to pay for it - the taxpayers, or do they?
Jeremy Corbyn is no stranger to a free bus pass controversy. Last August he waded into a row in Scotland after the SNP confirmed plans to raise the age at which Scots become eligible for one. The Labour leader reaffirmed his party’s commitment to the concessionary travel scheme, as part of a charm offensive aimed at older voters.
The Scottish government had unveiled proposals to raise the qualification age from 60 so that only those eligible for a state pension have a free pass. Ministers said it would protect the long-term viability of the scheme, which costs the taxpayer £192 million a year. The issue is still being debated at a time when there has been a decline in the number of journeys being taken by bus and of high levels of passenger dissatisfaction.
Now Mr Corbyn has pledged that Brits under the age of 25 will also get free bus travel, which could benefit up to 13 million young people.
It will help them save up to £1,000 a year each and be paid for using money ring-fenced from Vehicle Excise Duty.
Launching the policy at a visit to a sixth form in Derby, Mr Corbyn said: “Young people deserve a break.
“Nearly eight years of Tory austerity have hit their incomes, their chance to buy a house and their career opportunities. Labour wants to help young people make the most out of life by investing in them, which is why today we are pledging the next Labour government will provide the funds to cover free bus travel for under 25s, to support them to travel to work, to study and to visit friends.”
Currently, there is no national structure on free bus travel for young people and children. Kids aged under five generally don’t pay for bus travel anywhere in the country. But older children, teens and young adults all pay either full or reduced rates.
Under the scheme, funds for a free travel scheme for under 25s would be provided individually to local authorities who follow a certain set of conditions.
It would only go to those who introduce bus franchising - similar to the system in London - or move to public ownership of their local bus services.
Jeremy Corbyn hopes this will incentivise local authorities to create municipally-owned bus companies, run for passengers not profit.
Labour research claims such an arrangement could achieve annual savings of £276million per year.
The Express says the Labour leader is trying to buy young votes with the scheme prior to the May 3 local elections and that it would cost taxpayers up to £13billion.