OPINION: Free bus travel for all children?

The Express & Star yesterday reported that George Galloway (now it seems prospective parliamentary candidate for West Bromwich East) is backing a new campaign “demanding” that all people under the age of 18 become entitled to free bus travel.

Activists from The West Midlands Worker have launched a campaign calling on the region’s combined authority (WMCA) to make all bus travel free for people aged under 18.
It has been backed by West Bromwich East parliamentary candidate George Galloway, who said: “Bus travel is free for children in London, so why shouldn’t it be the same here in the West Midlands?”
Currently the WMCA’s transport arm, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) subsidises fares for elderly and disabled people on buses. The body also pays £7.2 million to fund reduced rates for youngsters.
A term time travel card for children costs £99.90, with single fares at £1.20.
A spokesperson for the campaign said: “In the West Midlands, taking the bus accounts for 80 per cent of all public transport journeys.
“We demand that TfWM, and their parent organisation the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) fund free travel for all children up to the age of 18 on bus services throughout the West Midlands.”
Campaigners warn that some youngsters were being forced to ‘jump the bus’ as they could not afford to pay for tickets.

Before I continue, I apologise in advance for expressing any political views in this opinion piece, as while I do have my own personal political opinions, I do aim to keep this website ‘apolitical’ as it is not normally the ‘time or the place’ to do so.

‘Activist’ groups that have ‘worker’ in their name, whether ‘Birmingham Worker’ (as pictured) or ‘West Midlands Worker’ (as detailed in the E&S article text) are generally hard-Socialist or communist activist movements, so it is not surprising to hear the use of the word ‘demand’ in their campaign text. (Whatever happened to ‘asking politely’?)

Young people mainly are attracted to socialist ideology simply by the lure of “free stuff”. But in my opinion, there is no such thing as ‘free stuff’, as somebody else ends up paying for it.

I believe it was Margaret Thatcher herself who was quoted as saying “the problem with socialism is that you end up running out of other peoples’ money.”

Anyway, trying to move away from politics now, while it is true that children in London do enjoy free travel, the West Midlands is not London. For starters, the vast majority of bus routes and journeys in the West Midlands are operated commercially by private bus operators.

As far as bus companies are concerned, a paying passenger is a paying passenger regardless of their age. A bus with a capacity of 75 passengers costs the same to run, regardless of whether all 75 passengers are adults or children.

As pointed out in the E&S article, child travel is subsidised by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), so while children enjoy discounted travel, the cost to the actual bus operator is topped up with taxpayers money. To the tune of £7.2 million a year, according to those figures from the E&S.

Socialists and communists like Mr George Galloway and his ilk, they will make their grand promises, I mean to be fair who wouldn’t think that free bus travel for children isn’t a bad idea (in principle at least)? But what they don’t tell you is “how we will pay for this”.

Because “free” for some, comes at a “cost” for others.

I shared the E&S article yesterday on my Facebook page, and I’ve enjoyed reading some of the comments.

No. Because it’s the adults that will suffer when the adult prices and season tickets go up. Less money going in from kids has to come from somewhere and season ticket holders are already paying for the lower prices that are paid for with credit cards and swift cards. I know. I pay yearly and used to get 2 months free, now I get one.

Janet Ralley

I completely agree. No free travel for kids. Sorry but they can’t behave on the buses now. They upset passengers and cause a nuisance. And what idiot said until they are 18. You will get the yobs well over 18 claiming that they are under age. All to be subsided by increased fares for the paying passengers.

John Gibbon

I would willingly sign a petition AGAINST free travel for children

Peter Turland

In order to allow all children under the age of 18 to travel for free on buses, one of two things will have to happen:

  1. The amount of money that Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) / WMCA pays to private bus operators is going to increase, thus increasing the tax burden on ALL council tax payers who contribute towards WMCA funding.
  2. If bus operators are not going to receive any additional revenue from the WMCA for allowing (child) passengers to travel for free, then the price of fares and passes will have to increase for those adults who do have to pay.

The other consequence, as pointed out in other comments that others have made, if children are allowed to travel on buses for free, if this means more children end up using the bus, how much room on the bus will there be for those adults who have to pay?

It’s already bad enough when a packed-out bus full of adults sails by without stopping, how bad would it be if you struggled to get on a bus packed out with kids?

Social justice?

Another way of looking at this, is that while free bus travel for children would undoubtedly help some very poor families struggling to get by, which is to be applauded, on the other hand, it also benefits the very wealthy families, those that can easily afford to buy monthly or term passes for their children.

So you end up with a situation where ALL taxpayers are footing the bill, to ensure that ALL children get free bus travel, which helps out the poorest and most vulnerable in society, while simultaneously helping the more ‘better-off’ who can afford to pay, but no longer need to.

A fair compromise

Personally, if we’re going to look at this from a ‘social justice’ perspective, perhaps we could explore the possibility of some kind of ‘means-tested’ scheme, whereby those folks more at a disadvantage could be offered a ‘free’ travel pass for their children, which allows them ‘free’ bus travel at certain times of the day, ie to allow their kids to travel to and from school, rather than a ‘free bus travel for all kids’ idea. Or perhaps put some more money into schools in order to fund school bus services, so that schoolkids can use those rather than taking up seats on public bus services, especially during peak-times.

I feel that would be a much better, and possibly more cost-effective, approach rather than a blanket ‘free travel for all children’ scheme.

And who knows, it might even help with traffic congestion especially at peak-times, if we can get more children travelling to school by bus, rather than having their parents picking them up or dropping them off.

In the interests of balance

This is an opinion piece after all, and while people are equally entitled to agree or disagree with my opinion, in the interests of balance, if anyone does feel that they want to support this petition, it can be found on Change.org here.

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