Scrapping under 18s free travel – a social mobility issue?

Scrapping under 18s free travel – a social mobility issue?

free travel
Ella Marsh

What getting rid of free travel for under 18s means for young people in London

Since 2006, London’s under 18s have been entitled to free bus and tram travel, along with half price discounted tube transport under a Zip Oyster Card. These concessions have been greatly beneficial in terms of social mobility and accessibility for the metropolitan youth, brought about as part of an initiative by the Greater London Authority. However, in recent times the Zip has come under attack. As part of TFL’s government bailout designed to combat the crippling effects of COVID, the free exemption given to under-18s seems as if it is about to be sacrificed. This has direct consequences for London’s youth.

The consequences of this are: reduced school attendance, worsening the effects of transport poverty, and overall, preventing social mobility and general wellbeing for London’s youths.

Pupils in the capital will have to pay to get to school, among other things, after the Government has planned to remove free travel for under-18s as part of a £1.6 million bailout package. This has arisen from a 90% loss in revenue as a result of falling passenger numbers due to the pandemic. In London, 30% of pupils are entitled to free travel, therefore an administration would need to be created to assess who is now eligible for free travel, something that is very time consuming and could be damaging. Sadiq Khan is actively trying to change this, in a letter written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, he warns that the cost of this is too large and states that there are other ways to reduce public transport usage by children. Khan warns that the cost of providing free travel will fall onto local authorities, creating an estimated cost of £16 million for London’s boroughs. This creates an opportunity cost where the money could be used to fund local community programmes which would give something to the under-18s of the city rather than taking away from them. Instead under-18s will have to pay for something that should be and has been provided for them by our government. 

These changes will undoubtedly disproportionately impact those from low-income backgrounds the hardest. Families will have no choice but to pay to send their child to school, undermining the aim of this policy change. As a young woman from a low-income background myself, who relied entirely on free transport to enable access to education, socialising with friends and extra-curricular activities, the associated impacts of this to London’s low-income families are astronomical. In such a formative period in their lives a reduction in the accessibility of under-18s will have negative impacts upon their progression into adulthood; with their education both in terms of the institutional sense and education gained through social/community encounter being eroded by limiting accessibility.

There are 2 million under-18s in London, with 37% of them living in poverty, already hit hard by the shocks of the pandemic, this is just another blow. Families are struggling to get back into the work-life balance at home after the coronavirus outbreak, which saw increased pressure on working families to educate their children via home schooling. 

Transport-related exclusion restricts young people’s capacity to take up education or training opportunities, worsening young people’s immobility in London.  Significantly, 60% of those affected are from BAME backgrounds, worsening London’s heightened inequality and placing further stress on pastoral care. Disempowering a marginalised population, it creates a loss of a sense of community and belonging for youths within our own city. Rather than coming together in such a time, the government seeks to exclude.

Our government has an obligation to provide free travel between home and school, and this is affected by a range of factors that are only exacerbated as a result of this policy change: age, distance from school, and income. This policy change has not only the direct consequences of pupils having to pay for travel, but also the indirect consequences of worsening transport poverty, losses in independence and missing opportunities for enhancing wellbeing. Many people still need the support and to share this message, the youth are our future and we must save the zip. We have an active role in stopping from this from going into effect, share this message, contact your MPs and sign the petition:

By Ella Marsh

Geography Graduate

Tags: COVID-19, under 18’s, travel, London, Mobility, education, wellbeing, London’s youth, poverty, BAME.

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