Sophie Allain from the Campaign for Better Transport explains how public transport is vital to maintaining an independent and connected later life.

Local buses provide a vital public service all over the country taking people to work and training, linking people to amenities and shops, and enabling people to keep in touch with friends and family. Buses are our most popular form of public transport, accounting for two-thirds of journeys, and the favoured mode of transport for elderly people and those on low incomes.

For many older people buses, and the concessionary bus pass that allows free travel, are a lifeline allowing them to remain active and independent. Nearly a quarter of older people live in rural areas and often their only means of public transport is the bus. Ageing decreases mobility so it is extremely important that there is a safe, accessible and reliable public transport network for those who don’t, or can’t drive. Buses support independent living and allow people to keep in touch with friends and family and make those all-important outings and visits possible. In short buses have a direct impact on social exclusion and play a huge part in stopping people becoming isolated.

Three quarters of those eligible for a concessionary bus pass have one and research has shown that passes have a highly positive impact on the lives of older people. When over-65s were asked during the 2010 party conferences which services used by older people should not be cut, the concessionary bus pass received more support than the winter fuel payment, care for frail and disabled people and post offices. Only the state pension and the NHS were considered more precious.

But the Government runs the risk of failing to ensure this vital service is protected. Spending cuts have hit buses hard, and whilst the Government has promised to keep the concessionary pass scheme, they have changed the way it’s funded which could result in service cuts. Older people in some parts of the country face the very real prospect of a bus pass, but no bus. Added to this is the withdrawal of half price coach travel for elderly and disabled passengers. Coaches are not part of the statutory bus pass arrangement, but the Government funded this additional scheme to support coach travel and many older people relied on the coach network to make long distance trips.

Cutting bus services can mean the loss of people’s only independent access to transport and are a false economy once you take into consideration the knock-on effects reduced mobility has on welfare and social care spending.

Campaign for Better Transport launched the Save our Buses campaign earlier in the year to draw attention to the serious threat to the nation’s buses. We’re working hard to make politicians understand the importance of buses and the human and economic consequences of cuts. We’re also helping people protect their local bus routes and campaigning for the same support for public transport users as is given to motorists. If you’d like to get involved in the campaign, or share your views on local buses and why they need protecting, visit our website.

Sophie from the Campaign for Better Transport