The National Union of Students is calling on the government to guarantee free bus travel for college students and apprentices, after a report revealed that councils have slashed millions from local transport budgets.
Research by the Campaign for Better Transport shows that local authority funding for bus services in England has been cut by 15 per cent since 2010 to £249.9 million, with more than 2,000 routes reduced or abolished altogether. In Wales, some 179 routes have been reduced or cut over the same period.
The report says that young people in education and training are among those who “suffer disproportionately” from cuts to transport budgets, and are more likely to experience isolation as a result.
“Young people need affordable bus services in order to give them a chance to take up opportunities in education and work, and to take the first steps to independence," the report adds. “Studies have shown that one in five students has considered dropping out of further education because of financial cost, and transport is the greatest cost of participation.”
The NUS said the cuts had had a huge impact on 16- to 19-year-old students and apprentices travelling to college. According to its own research, almost half of students living in less built-up areas pay more than £20 per week to get to college, with apprentices paying an average of £24 a week.
Joe Vinson, NUS vice-president for further education, said the cuts were “incredibly worrying”.
“The cost of travel can be the difference between making it to college or not, particularly for students from lower income backgrounds, and those living in rural areas,” he said. “Further cuts to these services could see a whole generation of people being unable to get to college.”
In its manifesto for the 2015 election, the Association of Colleges (AoC) is calling for political parties to ensure “affordable and accessible transport” for students.
It says the next government should consider creating a system that would allow older people with a bus pass to "give up" their right to free travel and pass the benefit on to a student who cannot afford to travel to college or to their apprenticeship.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise the travel costs young people can face in getting to education. Councils are responsible for providing this transport and we expect them to make appropriate decisions with local needs in mind.
“Most young people, including those who live in rural areas, have access to discounts or concessions on local buses or trains, either from their councils, schools or colleges, or from transport companies.
“In addition, our £180 million bursary fund, available to schools and colleges to meet the needs of disadvantaged young people, is often used to help with transport costs.”
Travel costs take a toll in rural areas – April 2014