Every resident in the West of England is being offered free bus travel throughout the month of their birthday thanks to an innovative £8 million initiative from the region’s directly elected Metro Mayor Dan Norris.
The plan is for the first passengers to travel free from 1 July 2023, and the scheme will run until 30 June 2024, so every resident’s birthday is included.
It is hoped ‘birthday buses’ will act as a catalyst for bus travel in the West of England to boost the number of passengers and, with a whole month of free travel, encourage a long-term shift in travel behaviour.
Currently, less than one in ten regional commutes are made on public transport, and congestion has a huge economic impact, costing the West of England £300 million a year, according to the Mayor, who has responsibility for transport and the economy. But it’s not just bad for residents’ collective pockets, it’s terrible for our lungs, and the lungs of our planet. 300 early deaths a year are linked to pollution locally, and 44% of carbon emissions come from transport.
In launching the scheme, Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: “If you’re already a bus user, this is a free month of travel to help during this frightening cost-of-living crisis. It could see current bus users better off by one twelfth of the bus costs they shell out annually.
“But I hope birthday buses also give more people who aren’t already regular bus passengers the perfect opportunity to jump on the bus and try it out – perhaps for a regular commute, to go to the shops, a restaurant, or to spend their weekends enjoying the amazing attractions and great beauty of our region. We really need more people using buses to cut congestion, pollution and noise – and meet our important and very ambitious 2030 net-zero targets.
“If you’re not a regular on the buses, please give it a go – you’ve literally got nothing to lose, and a lot to gain. If you are a car owner, think how many times you could avoid filling up at a petrol station during the month of your birthday?
“I hope, with a whole birthday month to try the bus for free, the public comes to like, and even love, bus travel and then continue to use it into the future. Other places in the UK have tried free bus travel for a day, or a weekend, but this is very different. It’s about encouraging lasting behaviour change. Trying a whole month of free birthday bus travel could mean the travelling public never look back!
“I’m delighted to launch this ground-breaking scheme, and look forward to seeing as many people as possible making the most of this fantastic opportunity to travel across the West of England by bus in their birthday month for free.”
The scheme will cover over 350 square miles, including all of the two great cities of Bristol and Bath as well as the surrounding areas of North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire. All the main bus companies including First and Stagecoach have signed up to the scheme, and the region’s WESTlink bookable minibuses will also offer free travel.
The phased nature of the offer, with a twelfth of the West of England population being eligible at a time, aims to allow bus companies to manage increased demand and keep new passengers.
The Metro Mayor says data then collected during the year will help build a better understanding of how fare reductions of this nature affect passenger growth and the wider demand for public transport.
Dan Norris said: “People rightly say buses are important. That affordable transport is critical in this cost-of-living crisis. That urgent behaviour change of an ongoing kind is key to overcoming the climate emergency. This initiative to give free bus travel in the month of a passenger’s birthday is a UK first. It is innovative and new. It allows our brilliant region to show the rest of the country how to take on the big challenges of our time.
“I wish every West of England resident many happy returns – and singles!”