Calls for free public transport for young people in Wales

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Wales could benefit from a similar scheme to that in Scotland, campaigners say. TRANSPORT FOR WALES

Planning for a free public transport scheme for young people should start immediately, to deliver benefits for the environment and create a generation less reliant on cars says the Senedd’s Petition Committee, which is calling on the Welsh Government to work with the transport industry to begin discussions on how such a scheme would work.

Sparked by a petition and public campaign and drawing on the work of the Welsh Youth Parliament, the Committee’s report, published on 23 May, concludes that the ambition is feasible and would have a positive effect on society and the environment.

In 2023, research by the Child Poverty Action Group found the minimum annual transport cost for sending a child to secondary school to be nearly £500; the Committee’s report argues that free transport for young people would help alleviate child poverty and the cost of living pressures faced by families across Wales.

In addition to taking evidence from transport experts, the Committee spoke to Welsh Youth Parliament Members and referenced their ‘Sustainable Ways’ report which investigated the issue last year.

Almost 75% of over a thousand young people surveyed said they would take public transport more often if it was free.

Ffion Fairclough, speaking to the Committee as a Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament, said, “If public transport is seen as inconvenient, either because of reliability or price, then people will choose to use the car instead.

More should be invested in public transport to increase the numbers of people using it, and part of this investment should be a free service for people under 25.

“If a scheme like this was introduced, younger people would not only benefit socially, but it would also open up more work opportunities. The minimum wage for apprentices or those aged 16-17 is only £6.40 per hour, while a return journey from Pontypridd to Cardiff is nearly £9.”

Calls for free transport for young people have also come from the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Rocio Cifuentes, in her most recent annual report and from the then Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe in November 2022.

The Committee looked at the similar scheme in Scotland which has provided over 100 million free bus journeys to people under 22 years old since its inception two years ago and could serve as a blueprint for Wales to follow.

The current financial pressures that the Welsh Government faces are acknowledged, but the report argues that preparation work for the policy should still be done. Jack Sargeant MS, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said: “Free public transport for young people has the potential to be a transformative policy that would alleviate the cost of living for families, support our climate ambitions and help the post-pandemic recovery of the bus sector.

“Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament spoke to us passionately about the challenges young people face when using public transport and experts across many sectors all agreed on the benefits this scheme could bring. This policy is an investment in our youth, an investment in a greener future, and a step towards reducing our reliance on cars. Finances are tight at the moment, but it’s time for the Welsh Government to take decisive action towards making public transport accessible for all young people in Wales.”