A poster in a bus stop reads "XR Youth Bristol demands that buses are free and fair"

XR Youth and Youth Climate Swarm launch free bus campaign

Youth climate groups are joining forces to launch a campaign for ‘free and fair’ buses. 

XR Youth and Youth Climate Swarm took action last night and today to support the campaign which calls on the West of England Combined Authority to provide free travel for under-25s and to open a public forum to identify improvements to bus routes. 

Bristolians woke this morning to find banners, posters and graffiti from XR Youth around the city centre promoting the demands. Banners were even hung from the cranes outside the M-Shed museum. 

Three cranes have long banners attached
Defying gravity: banners decorate the famous M-Shed cranes. Image: Simon Holliday.

From midday, Youth Climate Swarm will disrupt roads in the city using their favoured tactic of swarming, or blocking roads for up to seven minutes at a time before moving on. 

Free public transport for all has always been a demand of Youth Climate Swarm. In their 2021 manifesto, Bristol Labour group promised free travel for apprentices and under-25s, a promise they have never lived up to. 

Read more: Youth Climate Swarm disrupt city centre roads

XR Youth activist Torin Menzies, 17, said: ‘We are asking for free bus travel for young people not just because of the reduced carbon emissions from increased public transport usage, but also because of the cost of living crisis that we are currently facing. 

‘All young people should have equal access to education, and be able to meet up with friends, without having to worry about the cost of getting there.

‘Although some might say our demands are unrealistic, they are not unprecedented. Greater London already has free bus travel for under-18s, Scotland has introduced a free bus pass for all under-22s, and parts of Greater Manchester are serviced by entirely free buses.’

Yesterday evening XR Youth delivered a letter to the offices of the West of England Combined Authority detailing the group’s full demands. 

They ask for free travel within the West of England (including North Somerset) for all those under the age of 25, all students, and all apprentices.

They also ask for a consultation and a public forum to be run to identify improvements to bus routes that would best serve communities.

The letter reads:

“The West of England is facing a public transport crisis. Your continued cuts to bus services, increasing fares, and refusal to make the transport system work for working class communities make you complicit in the cost of living, climate AND air pollution crises. 

“Our country is in the middle of a cost of living crisis. Inflation bounds ahead whilst wages stagnate. An improved bus network would have society-wide benefits, especially for those on lower incomes and young people, by allowing them to access services, and to be able to afford necessities. 

“WECA and all of its constituent local authorities(including North Somerset) have declared climate emergencies and pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030. In order to reach these targets we need to dramatically reduce the number of journeys made by cars. Part of this is increasing public transport access. By removing fares for young people specifically you can then help to develop sustainable habits that last a lifetime. 

“Bristol’s air is so toxic that it is breaking the law. It causes hundreds to die every year and disproportionately affects working class areas. Other parts of our region are facing similar crises with similar histories of decades of inaction. Inadequate measures such as the Clean Air Zone are predicted to save only a few dozen of these lives. Incentivising residents to jump on high capacity, frequent service, low emission public transport is one of the most effective ways of reducing car usage and improving air quality. 

“Further education in our region has high levels of inequality, largely due to many low income areas of the city not having schools or colleges that offer the qualifications needed in order to progress onto higher education. A public transport network free of charge for young people would make education more accessible, and allow us to flourish. 

The new campaign comes as public transport across the West of England is in something of a shambles. 

A last minute deal between the constituent authorities saved subsidised routes, those that don’t make enough money and have to be supported by the authority, from sudden closure. 

Meanwhile, just two days ago mayor Marvin Rees announced free trial bus tickets alongside other sustainable travel initiatives to help people adjust to the proposed Clean Air Zone, which has recently been delayed for a third time. 

Rees’ scheme was made possible by a £5.9mn government grant and can also be used for e-bike trials and Voi scooter credit. 

Feature image: Simon Holliday.

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