Salome Gongadze: Suspending free travel for under-18s will place an unfair burden on London’s youth

Salome Gongadze: Suspending free travel for under-18s will place an unfair burden on London’s youth

Of the many strings attached to the government’s bailout funding package for Transport For London, the requirement to temporarily suspend free travel for under-18s is the most unnecessary and damaging.

Putting in place a cost-cutting policy so damaging to young people and working-class families goes against the government’s commitment to help everyone weather the current crisis.

London’s well-known Zip Oyster cards allow under-18s to ride London’s wide network of buses for free and get discounts on other services. It can be sometimes be a little chaotic getting on a bus at three o’clock when seemingly every secondary schooler in the city is piling on, but I’ve always thought a little noise was a small price to pay for a policy that let young people explore the city.

Besides, I’d bear almost anything to get life back the way it used to be, including inadvertently overhearing all the Year Nine gossip on the sweaty upper deck of the 168 to Old Kent Road Tesco.

While we do need to keep the number of people riding buses low in the short term, schools will soon be re-opening for some year groups. As the Mayor wrote in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, this will mean the cost burden of school travel being moved to boroughs in some cases and individual families in others, and may not even achieve the objective of reducing bus usage. 

Parts of London, particularly in the southern half, are connected to the wider city mainly through bus routes. Miles, a Year Ten student from Merton who I’ve got to know through TFL’s youth panel, told me young people in his outer borough would be strongly affected. The thought of returning to school is stressful enough without the addition of a large new cost. The concession is a small price to pay to support young Londoners to access leisure, education, friendships, and amenities beyond their doorstep. 

Moreover, the recently released documents detailing the TFL funding deal don’t give any details about how long it will be until the concession is reinstated, if at all. 

Young people have already been hit very hard by the school closures and the decline in work opportunities brought on by this crisis. They face a long, uncertain summer. The part-time jobs in the service industry they might otherwise rely on for pocket money largely don’t exist right now. Their parents may themselves be out of work and struggling to support them. In a city with the highest child poverty rates in the country, scrapping concessionary travel would only add to the burden. 

Salome Gongadze is a writer and researcher on cities. Follow her on Twitter. 

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