Deputy Rob Ward has called on Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis to begin the process to make bus travel free for all Islanders.
He is asking Members to support a three-part proposition which starts by making journeys to and from schools free from September. He says Deputy Lewis should bring forward a plan to enable all bus services to be free of charge to people under the age of 18 and people in full-time education from the ‘earliest date practicable’ before preparing a full plan by the end of 2020 designed to implement free bus transport across the Island.
Deputy Ward, who recently persuaded the Assembly to declare a climate-change emergency, said the cost impact of making buses free would need to be researched, but suggested the upcoming Government Plan – which outlines States spending – could provide a ‘key opportunity to develop this free service’. He added that the estimated £300,000 needed to provide free school travel could be offset by the money returned to the States from LibertyBus. This, the Deputy said, was similar to the amount paid by LibertyBus to the States on an annual basis.
Earlier this month, the States agreed to set a 2030 deadline for Jersey to become carbon neutral following a proposition from the Reform Jersey Deputy.
He said: ‘Free public transport would reduce the number of cars on the road. Climate change has been recognised by the States Assembly as an emergency and, if public transport was free, more people would use it, taking cars off the road.
‘Some people would simply choose to not own cars, further reducing the number of cars on the road. The result of free public transport would be dramatic in cutting vehicle emissions and combatting climate change, as committed to by the States of Jersey. This would support the ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2030.’
Deputy Ward added that the current cost of bus fares – which can be as much as £2.20 for a single journey – put people off using public transport and that a ‘zero fare would maximise the efficiency, convenience and attractiveness of public transport’.
Student fares with an Avanchi travel card are currently 80p per journey. Deputy Ward added: ‘The current fares for transport to school range between £8 and £11 per week per child. That’s between £290 and £385 per year for a full 38-week term. If a family has more than one child, the cost is significant.
‘In all parts of the proposition, a wider understanding of cost has to be considered. The cost to our health, infrastructure needs and growing damage to urban environment, plus the impact on climate, must be integral to these considerations. It is hoped that bus usage will increase with a free system. This will require greater investment, but in the long term. This will be balanced by longer-term savings from health, infrastructure and the culture change we require, as we and the world move away from a carbon-based economy.’