This piece is written by Youth Ambassador Harvey Morton
Transport Focus, the independent watchdog for transport in the UK found that young people are the biggest users of the bus – but don’t feel services are designed for them. As part of my role as Youth Employment UK Youth Ambassador I attended their conference on Monday 5th February 2018 in Birmingham to talk more about what needs to change for young people when they are using bus transport across the UK, but also to recognise examples of good practice from bus operators in the UK too.
It’s evident that more young people are using the bus today than ever before, but recent results from the Bus Passenger Survey (BPS) showed that they are the least satisfied group of passengers. For young people, Transport Focus recognised that there is a clear challenge to Government, bus operators and local authorities to make the bus a better experience. Several bus operators and authorities have seized the opportunity by introducing initiatives to improve their service and encouraging young people to make more bus trips.
I really enjoyed speaking at the event to transport executives from across the UK about recent improvements that have been made by bus operators in England but also to bring positive change to buses for young people and those furthest from the labour market, making them accessible for all! I currently run a digital agency – Harvey Morton IT Support and I use public transport every day for work and to travel to university. I’m still learning to drive so I rely heavily upon buses being on time and pleasant to use.
From my own experience, I know that there’s loads of great stuff going on already in the UK, across the Sheffield City Region, our local transport partnership is relatively strong, we’ve recently seen the roll out of being able to pay contactless on both First and Stagecoach buses in the area and First have recently introduced both audio and visual announcements on some of their services as part of a 3-year pilot scheme.
The buses now announce what stop they are approaching and which stops are up next. I’ve been really impressed with this, it’s really useful if you’ve never used the bus service before, I used to sit with Google Maps on my phone for guidance whilst on the bus if I was going somewhere new but now I don’t have to. This is also amazing for those with disabilities as it means that it’s easier to calculate where the bus is heading to without relying on someone else.
Speaking to other young people in Sheffield and across the region, they highlighted that they enjoyed being able to use free Wi-Fi on some services, the First mobile bus app proved to be popular for looking up routes and bus times and the ability to pay contactless was highly praised.
It wasn’t all good news though, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to improve bus transport in the area.
I’ve found that when buses are running late, the electronic timetables automatically update, which is all well and good but they consistently go from ‘due’ to ‘2 minutes’, down to ‘1 minute’ and back up to ‘2 minutes’ – this isn’t very helpful or realistic as you’re often expecting the bus to appear in sight when it’s probably still quite a way off the stop. Personally, I would prefer it if the times were more realistic and the display said ’10 minutes’ rather than constantly updating because I’ve been stood waiting up to 15 minutes before for a bus that said it was due in ‘2 minutes’.
Furthermore, and similar to what was found in the Transport Focus study, lots of my university course mates and I myself have chosen an Uber over the bus before due to the service being much more reliable and more convenient for little price difference and this shouldn’t be the case, fares need to be much lower and the operators know it!
Alarmingly, some young people I spoke to said they wouldn’t catch the bus after 9pm due to feeling unsafe and would often opt for an Uber or a lift home instead.
These small negative experiences all add up and often have a huge impact on the rest of the day.
There have been many occasions where I’ve given myself ample time to get to an important meeting or a lecture at university but I’ve been late (mostly due to bus lateness) but sometimes due to other problems like those I’ve mentioned previously and if you’re on your way to a job interview or to meet someone for the first time, it can create a negative impression and could ultimately cost you business or the job you were being interviewed for – this is serious and it needs to stop.
Transport Focus are working with bus operators in the UK to ensure that things do start to change for young people and I have every faith that they will succeed. I’d recommend reading the report if you get a chance.