Could making bus travel free help cut car emissions and reduce air pollution?
PUBLISHED: 09:32 08 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:34 08 February 2019
The proposal comes as figures show transport was the biggest contributor to the UK's carbon pollution problem in 2017.
Bus travel should become free to help people out of their cars and drive down greenhouse gas emissions, environmental campaigners have urged.
According to data from the Business Department (Beis), transport emissions - excluding international flights and shipping - have fallen just 2% since 1990 and now account for more than a quarter (27%) of the total greenhouse gas output of 460 million tonnes - a bigger share than energy supplies, businesses, homes or agriculture.
Suffolk County Council says it is “actively developing policies to promote greener travel options” but a study from Friends of the Earth and think tank Transport for Quality of Life suggests that to meet goals to curb global warming to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, large scale changes to transport are needed. Even with a faster switch to electric cars and cutting carbon emissions from the electricity grid, a reduction of at least 20% in the number of miles driven by car is needed by 2030, the report said.
One solution, it proposes, is extending the current free bus pass scheme for older people to those who are aged 30 and under, and calls for local authorities to consider making bus travel free to everyone over time.
Free bus travel is already happening in around 100 towns and cities, including more than 30 in the US and 20 in France as well as in Poland, Sweden, Italy, Slovenia, Estonia and Australia, the report said.
Such a move would not only help tackle the pollution which is causing climate change, but deliver other benefits such as reducing traffic and noise, improving air quality and boosting health, the campaigners argue.
Before it could happen in the UK, the public transport system would have to be re-regulated and sources of funding would have to be put in place.
Head of research at Friends of the Earth, Mike Childs, said: “It’s an idea whose time has well and truly arrived. Free bus travel for the under 30s at first, before widening the scheme, would make for more liveable cities and cut damaging greenhouse gas emissions.
He added: “It would cost around £3 billion a year but this is a fraction of the money spent on roads.”
In Suffolk, the county council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Rural Affairs, Mary Evans, said the authority is refreshing its existing Local Transport Plan, which sets out how it aims to deliver more infrastructure for walking, cycling and public transport use, and pointed to schemes such as the Endeavour card for young people, Park and Ride, and Suffolkonboard, which encourage the use of buses.
She added: “Suffolk is a rural county, so we appreciate that not everyone can travel by green modes of transport. However, findings show that a significant amount of car use can be avoided.”
Mid Suffolk district councillor and Green Party member John Matthissen, said on his patch in Stowmarket the around town bus service “is not getting the patronage it needs.”
He said: “All too many people are driving a mile to get to the shops – a lot of journeys are short journeys. If we gave every citizen in Stowmarket a free bus pass – paid for out of their rates - that would alleviate the awful traffic jams in town.”
He added: “A lot of people think the policies of the Green Party are utopian but increasingly these issues are becoming mainstream.”