Would free bus travel save young people £1,000 a year?

24 April 2018
What was claimed

The UK has lost 134 million miles of bus routes because private operators choose to make a profit and scrap the ones that don’t.

Our verdict

There were 134 million fewer miles driven by buses in the UK in 2016/17 than in 2006/7. This was driven by a reduction in local authority funded bus miles.

What was claimed

Since the Conservatives came to power, the number of bus trips taken by young people has declined by 40%.

Our verdict

Correct for 21 to 29 year-olds. According to the National Travel Survey, the number of bus journeys taken by people in England between 21 and 29 dropped by 40% between 2010 and 2016.

What was claimed

Young people tend to be lower paid, in insecure work and spend more of their income on travel.

Our verdict

Younger workers tend to earn less and a bigger proportion of gig workers are young than in more traditional forms of employment. Compared to all households, younger ones spend slightly more on public transport.

What was claimed

Young people could save up to £1,000 a year in bus fares under Labour’s plans for free bus travel for the under 25s.

Our verdict

Assuming they took 520 bus journeys a year (a national travel survey says that figure is 101 for under 21s), and the bus fare is around £2, they could save £1,000.

Labour have launched a policy promising free bus travel for people under the age of 25.

On the day of the announcement, Jeremy Corbyn made several claims about young people and bus travel in a video posted from his Twitter account, which was retweeted more than 2,500 times. According to Twitter, the video has been shown over 200,000 times.

Labour’s policy to give free bus travel to under-25s could save young people up to £1,000 a year. pic.twitter.com/7aUkEd3iiV

— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 12, 2018

We’ve factchecked the four main claims he made in the video.

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

There are 134 million fewer miles travelled by bus in the UK than a decade ago

“We’ve lost 134 million miles of bus routes because private operators choose to make a profit and scrap the ones that don’t.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 12 April 2018

The number of miles travelled by buses in the UK decreased by 134 million between 2006/7 and 2016/17, according to data from the Department for Transport and Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure

This was a drop of 8% to just over 1.5 billion miles.

This analysis was first done by the BBC—you can see their full dataset here.

For England not including London, bus mileage decreased by 9% between 2005/6 and 2016/17. The Department for Transport said this was driven by a “decrease of 45.3% in local authority supported mileage, in particular in non-metropolitan areas”.

At the same time, local authorities across the UK have faced reductions in their funding from central government in recent years, and this has led to reduced funding going towards certain services.

Local bus mileage can be one of two types of service, commercial or run on a supported basis, where local authorities subsidise routes that aren’t commercially viable but are deemed socially necessary.

You can read more about cuts to subsidised bus services in this House of Commons briefing paper on the Bus Services Act 2017.

Young people are making fewer bus journeys

“And since the Tories came to power the number of bus trips taken by young people has declined by 40%.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 12 April 2018

The National Travel Survey (NTS) breaks down the average number of trips taken per person per year, by age and main mode of transport.

Between 2010, when the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, and 2016, the number of London or local bus trips taken per person in England between 21 and 29 years old per year decreased from 89 to 54. This is a decrease of 40%.

For those between 17 and 20, the figure fell by 24% over the same period.

The survey has 16,000 participants per year, and uses interviews and self-completed travel diaries for its estimates.

Young people are on lower incomes

“This policy will make a real difference to young people who tend to be lower paid, in insecure work, and spend a higher proportion of their income on travel.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 12 April 2018

Full time male workers tend to earn less than those older than them until they reach the 40-49 age bracket, when they earn more than those a decade older than them. Women’s earnings peak slightly earlier, in their 30s.

A bigger proportion of ‘gig workers’ are between 16 and 30 than those who are regular employees or self-employed, according to research by Ipsos Mori and the RSA. The research doesn’t tell us whether these people were in education at the time. The majority of gig workers are over 30.

We’ve written more about who is working in low-paid, flexible, and potentially ‘insecure’ work in our factcheck about the gig economy here.

The Living Costs and Food Survey sampled around 5,000 households across the UK, which the ONS uses to see how much families spend per week, and on what.

The average household where the person legally responsible (known as the HRP) was under 30, spent more of its weekly expenditure on transport services than the average across all households.

These transport services include rail, bus and other forms of public transport, but not vehicle purchase or running costs.

But that amount spent on public transport (£19.90 per week) for households where the HRP was under 30 was less than for households where the HRP was between 30 to 49, or 50 to 64.

People taking 500 journeys a year could save £1,000 in bus fares

“And young people could save up to £1,000 a year in bus fares.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 12 April 2018

Labour told us they calculated their £1,000 figure using an average bus fare of £1.94. Labour have not published the data behind this average fare.

The TAS partnership transport consultancy’s survey on bus ticket prices found that the average single adult bus fare in 2017 was higher, at £2.33. They used over 1,000 single adult fares from around England, Scotland and Wales to reach this figure. It’s likely the amount spent by everyday users may be lower over the year if discounts for children and young people, and cheaper weekly or season tickets are considered.

Labour told us they’d done their calculation with the assumption that “some under 25s will take the bus to and from school each day on weekdays – so ten journeys a week”.

Assuming ten journeys a week are taken 52 weeks a year, the fares add up to just over £1,000.

Their claim says young people could save “up to” £1,000 a year with this scheme, rather than that being an average saving.

According to the National Travel Survey, in 2016, 17 to 20 year-olds took on average 101 bus trips, on London buses, other local buses and non-local buses, per year. Using Labour’s £1.94 average, a 17 to 20 year old taking that many bus journeys could save just under £200 a year.

With the incentive of free bus travel, young people may choose to take more buses or make buses travel their main mode of transport.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.