Jeremy Corbyn announces plans to give under-25s free bus travel

Labour says policy could help up 13 million young people save up to £1,000 a year

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 11 April 2018 23:59
Labour said its fares policy would help encourage more people to use public transport, reducing congestion and pollution
Labour said its fares policy would help encourage more people to use public transport, reducing congestion and pollution

Under-25s would be given free bus travel under Labour plans announced by Jeremy Corbyn today.

The party said it would scrap fares for 13 million young people to help them save money and encourage them to use public transport.

The policy could save each young person up to £1,000 a year, Labour said, and will be funded through revenue raised by Vehicle Excise Duty.

Free travel would only be offered in areas where councils agree to either take bus services under public ownership or introduce a franchising model similar to that which already exists in London.

Labour hopes the plans will encourage councils to set up their own bus companies, which studies suggest could help save the taxpayer £276m per year.

Mr Corbyn will announce the policy during a visit to a sixth form in Derby.

He is expected to say: “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.

He will add: “Our policy provides help where it is most needed. On average, children, young people and households with children each have less disposable income than working age households without children.

“Young people also tend to be in lower paid, more insecure work, and they spend a higher proportion of their income on travel. Giving them free bus travel will make a huge difference to their lives.”

The pledge is estimated to cost £1.4bn a year, although the Conservatives claimed Labour’s own sums reveal the true cost could be up to £13bn a year.

It would be funded by using around a fifth of the revenue generated by Vehicle Excise Duty, which is forecast to be £6.7 billion per year by 2022.

The money is currently due to be spent on building new roads, but Labour said it would instead earmark a chunk for its bus fares policy and fund road building through increased government borrowing.

It claimed the plans would encourage young people to use public transport instead of driving, thereby reducing congestion and pollution. The party hopes the policy will encourage people to get into the habit of using cars only when necessary.

Speaking alongside Mr Corbyn, Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, will say: “Buses are vital for easing road congestion and air pollution, but for too long, private bus companies have run our services for profit not people.

How UK rail fares have risen against the cost of living since 1995

“The public purse already pays 42 per cent of the costs of providing local bus services, but deregulated private companies choose to run only the profitable services and leave councils to plug the gaps left for non-profitable but vital routes.

“That’s why we’ll encourage local authorities to take back control of their buses so they can provide a better and more sustainable service to young and old alike, wherever they live.

The announcement follows a worrying fall in the number of people using buses, which is now at its lowest level in ten years.

In London, the reduction has prompted fears among Transport for London (TfL) executives over the state of the organisation’s finances.

This, coupled with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s decision to freeze some fares, means TfL is facing a deficit of almost £1bn next year.

Mr Khan welcomed his party’s announcement, saying he was “delighted at this promise that the next Labour government will enable us to provide a huge extra boost for the capital by offering free bus travel to all under 25's”.

He added: “Investing to provide free bus travel will greatly help young people access opportunities at this critical stage in their working and educational lives. It will also reduce car use, cut congestion, improve air quality and reduce generational inequality.”

The Conservatives said the policy would cost up to £13bn if it helps as many people as Labour claims it would.

​Nusrat Ghani, the transport minister, said: “This is yet another promise from Labour that they have no real ability to deliver.

“Labour admit themselves this could cost up to £13bn meaning extra borrowing with working people paying the price.

She added: “Last election Labour promised to pay off student debt if elected and then admitted it would actually cost too much to do. Now they’re bribing young people again with yet another empty promise.

“Our balanced approach to the economy means that we are able to help people with the cost of travel by extending railcards to everyone under the age of 30, while councils also have the power to offer cheaper travel for young people.”

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