The economics of the bus pass

Chesterfield Parish Church, Derbyshire

Not all walkers are pensioners with free bus passes – but quite a few are.

In this age of austerity there appears to be  a growing background noise, very often from the better off in society, suggesting that the unemployed, the low paid, and the pensioner should be doing more to help the country out of its financial hole.

The bus pass is an easy target, but few think about the economics around it, let alone search for the underlying statistics. Perhaps before the next election we will have opinions based on facts.

Those facts should highlight that the marginal cost of the bus pass scheme is low. After 9:30 am pensioners, especially in rural areas, are occupying seats that would otherwise be empty. Many free journeys would not be made if a charge was made for them.

This would lead to bus companies cutting services – unless a subsidy came from elsewhere.

Both town and country would be affected.

The local Ramblers Group often do pay to get out into the Peak District – because starting your walk after 9:30 am, particularly in mid-winter, is not feasible. The 8:35 bus to Great Hucklow yesterday contained 17 walkers paying the princely sum of £4.40 each. Only one non-walker was on the bus. Pensioners do sometimes pay full whack for using a bus before 9:30 and subsidising the system in their own individual way.

The fact is that people living or working in rural areas fortunate enough to have a car are unlikely to pay for bus travel. This means that in order to keep any semblance of public transport in those areas there has to be a subsidy from somewhere.

Other facts on the free bus pass should reveal that it encourages pensioners to switch off the central heating, get out and about, giving a bit of a boost to the local economy and improving their own mental health and sense of well-being. Visits to our national parks often result in a bit of exercise, aiding physical health.

View near Great Hucklow, Derbyshire 16 Jan 2013

If free travel were not available, pensioners with cars would use them instead, adding to increased  pollution and congestion on our roads.

Let’s get walkers of all ages into the Peak. They will feel better for it and the benefits will be widespread.

Yesterday, people had the choice of sitting at home cold and miserable watching breakfast TV and worrying about the problems of the world. Or they could climb above the low-lying mist to the sunlit uplands of the Peak to enjoy a healthy walk, followed by a drink at a pub or coffee house….thanks to the last government for its low cost bus scheme.

Anyone who seeks to remove it in the future will not be popular.