It's high time to make bus travel free

Annual greenhouse gas emissions are released today, and they show the Department for Transport is failing on climate change. We need to radically re-imagine transport and travel to reduce emissions, and make cities more liveable at the same time.
  Published:  05 Feb 2019    |      2 minute read

The latest government figures released today today show that transport was the largest source of climate changing greenhouse gases in the UK.

Transport, mostly passenger cars, are a significant source, making up more than a third of total emissions. The damaging aspects of road traffic are well established, resulting in adverse health effects caused by dangerous air pollution levels, as well as a negative impact on the local and global environment.

To coincide with the publication of these figures, Friends of the Earth, along with researchers at think-tank Transport for Quality of Life have released new research: Transforming public transport: Regulation, spending and free buses for the under 30s. The findings show that for climate change reasons at least a 20% reduction in car journeys is necessary, even with a faster switch to electrics cars and a more rapid decarbonisation of the electricity grid. This reduction requires a radical re-imagining of transport which would also realise the numerous other benefits of traffic reduction, for example to public health.

Mike Childs, Head of Research at Friends of the Earth, said:

“It’s an idea whose time has well and truly arrived. Free bus travel for the under 30’s at first, before widening the scheme, would make for more livable cities and cut damaging greenhouse gas emissions.

Dozens of cities across the world offer some form of free public transport. It would cost around £3 billion a year but this is a fraction of the money spent on roads. Three times more journeys are by bus than train and they are the main means of transport for the car-less quarter of the population. What we are seeing instead is bus fares rising 75% over the last 15 years, and over 3,300 services reduced or removed since 2010 in England and Wales.”

Lynn Sloman, Director of Transport for Quality of Life, said:

“Transport policy should be evidence-led. Our research makes it clear that UK transport policy requires a complete overhaul to enable us to comply with greenhouse gas reduction needs and other pressing public health concerns such as air quality and obesity. We can learn much from other countries across the world, particularly on how to manage and deliver a well-regulated high-quality public transport service.”

Mike Childs concluded:

“There is no reason why this can’t be the year that national and local government transforms transport and travel. We need to do this to get to grips with a changing climate and meet our Paris Agreement commitments to limit global temperature rises, as a bonus it will make us healthier and happier too.”

Friends of the Earth wants to see a transport system based around people and increased walking and cycling, not continued spending on cars and roads. Along with Transport for Quality of Life, the campaigners are calling for the UK to follow the lead of over 100 cities and towns across the world who are reducing air pollution and meeting the challenge of climate change by making bus travel free. It will be necessary to regulate buses to make this work.

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Further links to research from Transport for Quality of Life and Friends of the Earth on electric cars: https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/sites/files/policy/documents/2019-01/More_than_electric_cars_final.pdf and reduced car use: https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/sites/files/policy/documents/2019-01/Planning_for_less_car_use_final.pdf