Residents in the West of England are getting a special Birthday gift starting today (Tuesday 1 August) – a month’s fully free bus travel, part of a scheme from the region’s Metro Mayor designed to radically grow passenger numbers.
‘Birthday Buses’ is the brainchild of directly elected regional Mayor Dan Norris. The idea is simple. All one million-plus residents in the West of England region can travel on buses across the West’s 350-plus square mile network in the month of their birthday for free. Passengers can make unlimited journeys at any time on the day.
The West of England Mayor wants to help residents in the cost-of-living crisis, and get more people using buses to help take polluting diesel and petrol cars off our streets.
All the main bus companies, including First and Stagecoach, have signed up to the first of its kind initiative, and the region’s WESTlink bookable minibuses will also offer free travel.
It is hoped new passengers will take advantage of the month’s free travel and that, over the course of the month, build new routines. Data collected during the year will help build a better understanding of how the scheme affected passenger growth and the wider demand for public transport.
Worked up in partnership with bus companies, the phased nature of Birthday Buses, with a twelfth of the population eligible at a time, will mean increased demand can be managed.
Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: “I’m really proud of Birthday Buses. It’s a serious plan to get more and more people out of their cars and onto the buses long term. Because urgent behaviour change of an ongoing kind is key to building the local transport system West of England residents deserve, and to overcome the climate and ecological crises we face. With a whole birthday month to try the bus for free, I hope the public comes to like, and even love, bus travel and then continue to use it into the future. It is also a welcome boost to residents in this really very frightening cost-of-living crisis.”
Less than one in ten regional commutes are currently made on public transport and the economic impact of congestion costs the West of England £300 million a year.
Birthday buses has caught the imagination of Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh, who said the plan was “exactly the kind of initiative we need to encourage people on to buses”, as well as groups like Bus Users UK, who have called the scheme “absolutely brilliant”.
If successful, the Mayor says he hopes Birthday Buses could be rolled out nationwide.
Mayor Dan Norris said: “The data shows us we need new passengers on the network to make it sustainable. I hope Birthday Buses can be used as a template with more mayors soon able to wish their residents many happy returns and singles too!”