Last week saw the completion of the national Bus for Jobs scheme, which enabled jobseekers to travel free on their local bus services throughout January. Initial estimates are that in the region of 45,000 free bus journeys were made, with particularly high levels of take up in the North East.
Whilst it was only ever designed as a one month offer, the significance of the scheme goes far beyond. Firstly, it has raised awareness of local bus services with jobseekers and employment agencies, and of job seekers with bus companies, many of whom have either decided to extend the offer or are now looking to what longer term discounts they can give. Secondly, it has succeeded in raising awareness across government and the media of the importance of buses to the wider economy.
Is it possible that this could be the beginnings of a real change in how buses are perceived?
Buses rarely get much of a look in, but for once we saw plenty of media coverage for buses – and very positive coverage at that. The scheme was covered by every single national newspaper, and even included a leader in the Daily Mirror. It was particularly gratifying to note the enthusiasm by which the scheme was embraced by papers like the Daily Mail and to see it featured heavily across the broadcast media in regular news bulletins and programmes, such as on Sky News and ITV News.
The message of the importance of buses to employment achieved prominence in parts of the media where they don’t normally feature such as Bloomberg, and the Bus for Jobs scheme was even the subject of 6 questions in the House of Commons.
What happens next?
Credit to an industry for showing leadership, and taking the kind of positive action we need if the economy is to get onto the path to sustainable growth. The key question is what happens next?
As the Government, main political parties and media grapple with the issue of free bus travel for wealthy pensioners, I hope that one important outcome of this scheme has been the spotlight it has put on job seekers – and young unemployed people in particular – against whom the cards are so heavily stacked.
Above all, what this scheme has really highlighted is the extent to which buses are the workhorse that is so often taken for granted. Despite carrying more passengers than all other forms of public transport combined, buses have fared worse than the other modes in spending reviews. I hope that another important legacy of the Bus for Jobs scheme is further evidence for the Treasury of the need to redress this balance.