Youngsters to get half price bus travel

THOUSANDS of young people in the county will be able to get half price bus travel under a new scheme unveiled today.Called the Suffolk Youth Card, the scheme will be the largest of its kind in the country and is the first time a county council has launched such a project.

THOUSANDS of young people in the county will be able to get half price bus travel under a new scheme unveiled today.

Called the Suffolk Youth Card, the scheme will be the largest of its kind in the country and is the first time a county council has launched such a project.

From January next year, all youngsters aged between 10 and 19 will receive personalised youth cards which will entitle them to unlimited half price bus travel anywhere in the county at any time.

There are also plans to work with town centre retailers to convince them to offer discounts and incentives to card holders.

The scheme is likely to cost Suffolk County Council hundreds of thousand of pounds to run each year, but Kevan Lim, county councillor and chairman of the council's Moving People Project, said the benefits of the scheme would outweigh the costs.

He said: "Our surveys into what people want have said that facilities for young people is a top priority.

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"Getting about in the county is often an issue for them and this will help with that."

It is thought around 90,000 young people in Suffolk will be eligible for the cards, which will be issued free.

Mr Lim said: "How many of them actually make use of it is up to them, but we expect at least 30,000 will use it on a regular basis."

Everyone within the specified ages can have a card, regardless of whether they are in full time education or working, and Mr Lim said the decision to go beyond 18, the typical cut off point for youth discount schemes, had been well thought through.

He said: "It seemed to us that 19 is an age that often falls out of the net for those who need a discount because they are still in education and those who have jobs but are not yet earning a good income. They often make the point that getting to a job interview on the other side of the county can be an expensive business, so we felt that group of people is one we wanted to target with this."

It is also hoped the scheme will be taken up by the 11,000 children who currently do not qualify for free school transport.

The scheme has been in the discussion stages for the last two years and although it would at first appear to be the perfect solution for cash-strapped teenagers, it is also the perfect solution for a council that is struggling to meet government targets for the use of public transport.

In 2003, Suffolk County Council had a target of 19.5 million bus journeys made in the county but it missed that target by around half a million. Allowing more young people to afford to travel around the county will help meet those targets in future.

A similar scheme is already running in Derbyshire, but on a smaller, more local scale and Mr Lim said Suffolk County Council wanted to make this one a wide-reaching scheme.

He said: "It is quite a radical step, other authorities have attempted smaller schemes that have worked so this is a big step forward but we just felt the time was right for this."

If negotiations go well with bus operators and local retailers, Mr Lim also plans to widen the scheme further to include train travel.

It is also believed the scheme will give local industry a boost of up to £3 million a year as youngsters make more trips into town centres and to cinemas.

Cards will be sent directly to schools and colleges for collection and special arrangements will be made for young people who are not in education.

N. What do you think of the new scheme? Write to us at Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or visit the Evening Star forum at www.eveningstar.co.uk

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