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OAPs should give their free bus passes to college students, says Assocation of Colleges

Pensioners should give up their free bus passes to help 16-18-year-olds travel to college, according to the Association of Colleges.

The AoC’s manifesto for the 2015 general election, launched this week at it annual conference in Birmingham, calls for “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.

Richard Atkins, AoC president, told TES many older people eligible for the benefit choose not to take it up, choosing to pay for public transport or use their own vehicle.

“Those people should be able to gift their bus pass to a 16-18-year-old to enable them to have free transport to and from their college,” he said. “We believe if there’s a national campaign to do this then a very significant number of people would hand back their free travel pass.”

However, older people’s charity Age UK told TES the important role of the free bus pass must not be underestimated.

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “It provides a lifeline for many people, often the poorest, who would otherwise be stranded at home, enabling them to access vital local services and stay connected with friends and family."

Budget pressures have forced a number of local authorities to cut back on the funding they give to local bus services in recent years.

The Campaign for Better Transport estimates that 2014 is set to be the worst year yet for cuts to bus services, with almost £20 million earmarked for cuts from local authority bus funding.

At the same time students have to stay in education or training until the age of 18, and the AoC reckons transport costs could restrict choice and force students to take unsuitable courses.

Mr Atkins, who is principal of Exeter College, said young people can pay up to £700 a year for travel costs in some areas. Although some colleges subsidise the cost, their own budgets are under pressure.

The Department for Education said it recognises the travel costs young people can face in getting to education, but said the legal responsibility rests with councils and it expects them to make appropriate decisions with local need in mind.

A spokesman said: “Most young people have access to a discount on local bus or train travel, either from their local authority, transport provider, school or college.

“In addition, our £180m bursary fund, available to schools and colleges to meet the needs of disadvantaged young people, is often used to help with transport costs.”

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