New initiative offers cheap bus fares for 800,000 jobseekers
- Scheme to cover 70% of UK bus routes;
- Young people in England, Wales and Scotland set to benefit.
Almost a couple of years ago, Iain Duncan-Smith reworked Norman Tebbit’s ‘Get on your bike’ quote and substituted the Chingford MP’s father’s bicycle for the bus. Shortly after suggesting this mode of transport to Merthyr Tydfil’s long term unemployed citizens, the journey time of Stagecoach Islwyn’s route to Cardiff made the left-of-centre newspapers, albeit in negative terms.
Following on from this, Stagecoach Holdings, plus Arriva and FirstGroup, are backing a new ‘Bus For Jobs’ initiative. This will enable 800,000 jobseekers travel for free throughout January 2013. Bus travel is the UK’s most popular form of public transport mode with 5.2 billion journeys made each (a substantial amount of which within Greater London).
Also participating within the scheme throughout Greater Manchester along with FirstGroup, Stagecoach and Arriva is Network Warrington. It is not clear as to whether Transdev Lancashire United, Transdev Burnley and Pendle, and Rossendale Borough Transport are participating. Given the number of independent operators in some parts of Greater Manchester, unemployed passengers living in staunch D&G/South Lancs Travel territory for example may lose out.
The ‘Bus For Jobs’ is backed by Greener Journeys, covering 70% of the UK’s commercial and subsidised bus routes, providing help for unemployed citizens looking for work or attending suitable training courses.
Sir Brian Souter, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group, said: “The bus is Britain’s most important mode of public transport. It is how millions of people across the UK access employment, education and training every day.
“Bus for Jobs could make the vital difference for those who are struggling to get that first job or training place. In particular, I hope we can help more of our young people make a better start in life.”
Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Good bus services play a huge role in boosting economic growth by helping people to access employment and training opportunities. I have been encouraging bus operators to look at the fare deals they can offer to young people looking for work, so I congratulate the operators that are doing so in January and look forward to seeing other offers in the future.
“This move will benefit the industry as well as job seekers as young people are not only a key section of the market – they are the future of the local bus industry.”
Latest government figures show the free bus travel offer will be available to as many as 817,000 people who are currently out of work and claiming benefits. However, this offer is only available to jobseekers who have been unemployed for between three months and one year. It is particularly targeted at young people for whom unemployment rates remain high.
The scheme will cover holders of a JobCentre Plus Travel Discount Card. Those who are eligible for the card, available through JobCentre Plus, include people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support, actively engaged with a Jobcentre Plus adviser in returning to work.
At present, the travel discount card allows users to save up to 50 per cent on train journeys, and on public transport in London. From January 1, card holders will be able to travel free on many buses around the country.
‘Bus for Jobs’ is being financed and publicised locally by the participating bus companies. Jobcentre Plus staff are actively promoting it to those looking for work. Further details about the scheme are on a specially created website: www.busforus.co.uk. Information about Stagecoach routes covered is available at http://www.stagecoachbus.com/busforjobs.aspx.
In Britain, the bus is a big contributor to the success of SME’s and local businesses, as well as large organisations. Bus travel connects people to jobs, leisure, High Street shops and to education and training. Greener Journeys hopes this new scheme to help people into work will remind UK businesses and politicians the importance of reliable bus travel to many commuters.
Claire Haigh, Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, said: “This scheme will help get people on the move and into work or training. Our research shows that bus travel makes a massive contribution to UK Plc; and reliable, affordable, and accessible bus routes can help to boost economic growth.
“In difficult economic times, this new scheme from Greener Journeys will provide a helpful start to the New Year, enabling job hunters to travel around more easily in search of employment, to job interviews with prospective employers, and to training courses which will help them find work.
“This scheme will give people looking for employment access to free bus travel for one month. This will help many of them secure their first job, or a place on a relevant training course.
“The number of bus travellers continues to grow in the UK, and over 5.2 billion bus journeys were taken by Britons in the past year. More people commute to work by bus than all other public transport combined and bus commuters already generate over £64 billion of economic output.”
Neil Couling, Work Services Director at the Department of Work and Pensions, said: “I welcome this initiative, which will support thousands of jobseekers by removing the cost of travel. This scheme is a really positive way to start the New Year for those looking for work, and I am pleased that so many people will benefit from the scheme.”
East of the M60 hopes the scheme is a great success. Given that public transport fares are a significant barrier to employment, or signing-on even, it is only fair that unemployed citizens should be entitled to discounted fares. With Jobseekers’ Allowance set to rise 3% over three years, as per George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, a more permanent scheme instead of a limited period one starting next month should be considered.
S.V., 10 December 2012.