When Chris Grayling was the Secretary of State for Transport he announced a new rail saver card for 16-17 year olds. From September, this group will now have access to some of the cheapest peak time rail fares, not only to travel to and from college and school, but also for leisure use.
The DfT, now under new leadership, recently issued a press notice about the new card https://www.gov.uk/government/news/over-one-million-people-to-save-hundreds-as-new-16-17-saver-launches-cutting-cost-of-rail-travel-for-teenagers There must be questions about the claim of the number of young people that will benefit, especially in the absence of any indication that you don’t need to buy the card if you live in London and just travel to and from school or college. This is thanks to TfL arrangements that have increasingly taken many suburban rail lines into the overground network. The annual saving of an estimated £186 is good news for those that use the train, but not for all young people.
My concern has always been that this initiative does nothing for young people living in rural areas some distance away from rail lines and that cannot use them to access school or college places. In Oxfordshire, Witney, Burford, Wantage, Farringdon, Chipping Norton, Watlington and Wheatley, along with a host of other towns and villages, don’t have direct access to a railway station. Why hasn’t the government done a similar deal with the privatised bus companies to help these young people?
Alternatively, having raised the learning leaving age to 18, why hasn’t the DfE responded to this initiative by looking to change the home to school transport regulations so the upper age limit for free travel is 18 and not 16. This would come at a price to public finances, and would be more expensive to the public purse than a deal with bus operators, but to do nothing is a slap in the face for young people living in rural areas, especially if the Department for Transport is also interested in making it more difficult for them to use their own transport to reach schools and colleges, and has done nothing to make cycling safer.
This anti-rural area bias is just the sort of issue that might tip the balance in a few rural constituencies, were there to be a general election in the autumn. My Lib Dem colleagues could well mount campaigns along the lines of ‘Tories Take Rural Family vote for Granted’ and see what happens.
I haven’t seen any response from the National Union of Students or any of the teacher associations with members in rural areas. Neither have I seem the Local Government Association take up the cause of young people in rural areas. There is little time to change the situation for September, but I hope schools and colleges, where some pupils can benefit from the new card, will take action to ensure other students don’t drop out of education because of the cost of travel to school and college on top of all the other costs of studying faced by that age group.