Free and discounted bus travel for under 18s should be extended to the whole of the UK, suggests a report on the impact of transport on the future health of young people.
Charges should be waived or reduced to expand the concessionary bus fare schemes in operation in London and Manchester, according to recommendations drawn up in a report produced by UWE Bristol and Sustrans. This would end the postcode lottery for students and young people seeking employment, the report says.
UWE Bristol's Dr Kiron Chatterjee, the report's lead author, said there was a strong social, economic and environmental case for extending the offer to all young people.
Dr Chatterjee, an Associate Professor in Travel Behaviour, said the research concluded that young people should be prioritised in transport spending and that more should be done to ensure they have better access to affordable, good quality transport, particularly for reaching places of work and education providers.
The research was commissioned by independent charity the Health Foundation, which has conducted a two-year inquiry to build an understanding of the influences affecting the future health of young people. When the charity spoke to young people aged 16-24 in five different locations in the UK about what affects their opportunities and life chances, transport was cited in every case.
Dr Chatterjee worked with walking and cycling charity Sustrans to investigate what was known from data and previous studies about young people's access to transport and use of it and the impacts this has on their lives.
The study found that bus services were more important to 17-20 year olds than any other age group, with millennials less likely to learn to drive than previous generations of teenagers.
Dr Chatterjee, from UWE Bristol's Centre for Transport and Society, said: "We found that young people have become increasingly reliant on getting lifts by car as journey distances have increased over time. However when young people reach driving age they are less likely to get a driving licence than was previously the case before the turn of the millennium and they make fewer trips than before. As a consequence, buses are much more important for young people moving into adulthood (those 17-20 years of age) than for any other age group and this is particularly the case for those living in a household without a car."
The study found that relying on limited means of transport, such as getting lifts, inhibited young people's activities. Researchers found that where young people were supported and encouraged to use alternatives to the car, such as cycling, as children, they were more likely to be willing to use them when older.
The researchers also recommended further Government-led investment in walking and cycling as these modes of travel were of particular benefit to young people, who are more limited than other age groups in their transport options and are positive about using these forms of travel as healthy and environmentally friendly options.
Co-author of the report, Dr Andy Cope, Director of Insight at Sustrans, said: "The findings of the report, including decreasing car ownership amongst young people, provide vital evidence for policy and planning change. Urgent cross-government action is required to ensure that every person across the UK has access to safe and well connected walking and cycling infrastructure, in order to access the opportunities for a healthy and prosperous future.
"We call on Government to reduce funding for the strategic road network and instead prioritise walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure and services. Sustainable modes of transport should be the cheapest, most convenient and attractive option for all young people across the UK."
Access the full report on transport.