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Millbrook 2019
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December 05 2018
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

Attracting younger people to the bus industry

Young people are a vital part of the bus industry’s future. If it is to attract them both as passengers and as employees, the right image must be projected, says a cross-section of the sector’s senior leadership

Young bus passengers must be made to feel a loyalty towards the mode

Is the bus industry doing enough to attract youngsters? That was asked on Monday 26 November)as evidence was given to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the health of the market.

Answering were Martin Dean, Go-Ahead Group MD of Bus Development; Bill Hiron, MD of Stephenson’s of Essex and Chair of the Association of Local Bus Managers (ALBUM); Alex Hornby, Transdev Blazfield CEO; Malcolm Robson, advisor to ALBUM; and Steven Salmon, CPT Director of Policy Development.

Fare inconsistencies

Chair Lilian Greenwood points out that there is no consistency of fares for young people, noting that in some areas eligibility ends at below 18 years of age.

Go-Ahead offers youth fares up to that age on around 95% of its mileage, says Mr Dean, because it realises that a realistic alternative to the bus arrives before then.

“The concept that we should penalise young people with an adult fare just when they could get their driving licence does not work,” he says. “It is about trying to encourage loyalty to bus travel. One of the ways we do that is to extend the validity of the child fare.”

Mr Hornby adds that a further element of retaining younger customers is to trust them. Transdev Blazefield is keen to remove the need for passengers asking for discounted fares to prove their age.

“We find when talking to young people that it is about not just a reduced fare, but the fear of what the driver will say, or what our policy is. By getting rid of [proof of age], it doesn’t just add to convenience; it is also says, as a bus company: ‘We trust you and our drivers trust you. When you get on, say you want a cheaper fare’.”

Contactless panacea?

Mr Dean adds that if operators are out of touch with customers’ requirements in terms of fares, they are at risk of losing market share. He points out that in general, the industry has low barriers to entry.

Adoption of contactless payment is another incentive for young people. However, Mr Salmon raises the point that some customers will be too young to have a bank card, or be otherwise unable to obtain one. The answer to that is likely to be that smartcards remain part of the ticketing landscape, even after contactless encompasses daily, weekly and monthly capping.

With the right image, the industry becomes attractive as a career choice

Transdev Blazefield, however, sees contactless as the future. “The idea is to let it be the key to that instead of there being a smartcard,” says Mr Hornby. “That makes it easier for the customer, in the way that Oyster works in London [with capping].”

Go-Ahead will maintain other payment forms. “We are trying to segment the market with retail channels that each of our customers appreciate,” says Mr Dean. “In the case of children who do not have a bank account, we still have smartcards. We are not eliminating other payment forms.”

Even with contactless and smartcards, cash will be around “for the foreseeable future,” says Mr Hiron.

“We are not in a position where we can get rid of cash and we do not envisage doing so. There has to be a mix-and-match depending on what the local market wants.”

Attracting younger drivers

Also examined was attracting drivers. Mr Hornby explains that while Harrogate is where Transdev Blazefield finds recruitment most difficult, it has succeeded there by engaging with young people. That is partially thanks to an extensive service industry in the town that includes businesses such as cafes.

“They are on hourly rates of £4 less than we pay. When they come to us, they realise the sense of autonomy they get, but they can still engage with people. We are beginning to make that switch.”

He adds that a further component of attracting young people is for the operator to understand what they get from their current employer. Giving them similar, but at a higher hourly rate, has generated some good responses. “The key is first to make the bus and the company look attractive... which is what will bring them in. That is why those people are often attracted to service sectors.”

Apprenticeships for drivers may be another avenue to explore, says Mr Salmon. While it represents a means of returning Apprenticeship Levy money to the industry, that is not the principal reason; the main motivation is to generate young employees - which dovetails with a desire to grow the number of young passengers.

Full session transcription at

routeone comment

Other topics were covered at the hearing, and the industry representatives present were subjected to some predictably loaded questions from MPs Graham Stringer and Daniel Zeichner.

While Mr Stringer in particular fails to hide his contempt for private sector bus operation, the individuals who spoke up for the sector demonstrated that there is no shortage of ideas and potential.

Attracting young people to the bus is clearly on the radar with some parties. Be they as passengers or as drivers, it’s one of several things that the industry must do if it is to secure its future; widespread autonomy making roles redundant is decades away, if it happens at all.

Operators are generally looking towards the future, regardless of whether it holds opportunity or crisis. They’re not fondly reminiscing about the past - which is more than can be said for some members of the Transport Select Committee.

I completely agree with the views expressed in this timely article. West Yorkshire PTE recently introduced a policy where schoolchildren were allowed to travel for half fare if wearing school uniform whether or not they were in possession of a half fare permit. This should avoid conflict between drivers and people who are future long term customers. My own son when aged 13 was charged full fare by an aggressive driver some years ago despite the requirements at the time of not needing a half fare permit until the age of 16. He swore that he would not travel on a bus again and was true to his word. I also concur with making things more attractive for younger people to enter the industry. During my 50 year career I always made a habit of approaching young drivers to encourage them and impress on them what a great choice of career they had made and the prospects for advancing were favourable as the industry, perhaps more than others, usually promoted from within and every manager or supervisor employed had usually commenced their employed, like they had, as a driver. I did have a few issues with the company that employed me when they promoted drivers to a supervisory role after a mere 3 months of employment and I was proved to be correct when it showed that they lacked the experience to make the step so soon but in the main the bus service industry is ideal for young people to enhance their careers to the fullest potential.
Kenneth Farrington

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