Over the last few weeks the theme of the Greener Journeys Blog page has been the bus pass. You wouldn’t expect us as bus users (or as Bus Users) to disagree with anything that’s been said so far. The very tangible benefit that Greener Journeys research shows the bus pass provides — at least £2.87 for every £1 spent on it — speaks for itself.
We know from feedback at our Your Bus Matters events held around the country that older people put much greater value on the freedom the bus pass gives them than a cold economic analysis can provide. The bus pass enables people to get to shops where bargains can be had; it gives older people who might otherwise be isolated much greater interaction with others; and it gives drivers the confidence to give up their car when they get to the stage of being a menace on the road.
Many car owners have discovered the convenience of the bus since reaching bus pass age, and are often glowing in their praise of their local bus service when we talk to them. They also discover that not only does life not end if you have to part with the car, actually the bus can offer you greater independence.
That independence does, however, come with a proviso. Sadly, as local-authority funding cuts continue to bite ever deeper, more communities are losing their bus service. Yet money spent on bus services, and not just to save older people the cost of their fare, has been shown over and over again to give a good return on investment.
Sometimes that’s not easy to calculate; money saved for instance on cutting funding for services aimed at tourists may seem an obvious way to balance the books, but has anyone taken the trouble to evaluate the cost — financial, societal and environmental — that this creates? But the hardship on individuals becoming isolated by the removal of their bus service is even greater and more difficult to calculate.
There is increasing realisation of the fact that bus services are vital to hold together the fabric of society, and of the true cost and hardship caused by chopping communities off the public transport map. And just to be clear, that’s not just pretty villages in the Yorkshire Dales or Cumbria: often disadvantaged communities in poverty-stricken urban areas are affected too.
Yet that realisation is not yet being translated into ensuring essential local bus services are safeguarded. It’s great that the bus pass is giving people much better opportunity to access facilities that improve their quality of life: but we need to be mindful too of people in isolated communities, especially those at the other end of the age range, whose opportunities to make something of their lives is dependent on having access to a bus service.