This study shows positive effects of free bus travel for young Londoners: raised sense of wellbeing, independence and greater participation in education.

The research

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and UCL (University College London) assessed the effect of free bus travel on 12-18 year olds in London. All young Londoners are entitled to by registering for a Zip Oyster Card

More than 100 young Londoners were interviewed in depth to examine how free bus travel has affected young people’s independent mobility.

A social network for young Londoners on the buses

Travelling together was reported to be a key feature for young people. Researchers discovered that a ‘code of honour’ for bus travel has developed: travelling as a group is seen as a sign of loyalty and getting on a bus without friends or leaving them on the bus alone seen as a betrayal. While many adult travellers use a range of strategies to avoid others in shared space, young Londoners are embracing free bus travel as a site of sociability.

First author Dr Anna Goodman, Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Free bus travel has improved independent mobility by giving young people the freedom to get about without always having to ask their parents for money. This made a particular difference for social or recreational trips, which even more affluent parents might not always be willing to pay for. But to the young people these trips were important, a way to gain travel skills, spend time with friends, and come to feel more ‘like a Londoner’.

The study, funded by the NIHR PHR Programme, also found that free bus travel improved confidence because young people could take ‘practice’ journeys and could feel secure that they would not be stranded far from home without money to get back.

 The benefits for young people echo benefits of free bus travel for older people which have also recently been described by the same research group. 

The full repot has published in the NIHR Journals Library.