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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Alex Seabrook

Free bus travel in Bristol region if it's your birthday month

People living in the wider Bristol region will be able to claim free bus travel during the month of their birthday. A new £8-million plan starts in July and will give West of England residents free bus passes for a month in a bid to get more people using public transport.

The birthday buses plan, announced by the West of England Combined Authority on Tuesday, May 23, aims to give people enough time to get in the habit of using the buses more often, as well as help commuters struggling with rising fuel costs and inflation.

Dan Norris, West of England metro mayor, revealed the new scheme while on board a double decker bus at the Lawrence Hill bus depot. He said if more people chose to travel by bus instead of car, that could help cut congestion, pollution and tackle climate change.

Read more: Plan for bus lane and banned turns on South Bristol road changed after criticism

Mr Norris said: “We’ve got a cost of living crisis which is very tough for lots of people, they’re genuinely frightened, so I want to help with that by reducing the cost of travelling by bus. Also we’ve got a climate emergency, and that is clearly critical and getting worse if the latest figures are right, so we need to get people on public transport and out of their cars.

“We’ve got a load of congestion in our region which costs our regional economy £300 million a year, and we have 300 people every year dying prematurely because of air pollution. This initiative is giving residents of the West of England free bus travel for the whole of the month of their birthday. And it’s a UK first, there have been other initiatives but not like this one.

“The idea is that we can build in behaviour change. If you’re driving a car and you think, ‘you know what, I'll give it a month on the bus and see how it goes’, there’s a chance that you might say you’re going to make many more bus journeys in the future and leave the car at home.”

Applications can be made online — on the website which is not yet live — and a pass card will be sent out in the post. Anybody living in Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, or North East Somerset can apply.

The scheme will be valid on all participating buses across the West of England. This includes services on First Bus, Stagecoach, Bath Bus Co, Big Lemon and CT Coaches. Exclusions apply on tour buses, school buses, special event buses or buses with premium fares for part of their routes, such as the A1 and A3 airport flyer services, the A4 and the Stagecoach Falcon. If successful, the scheme could be continued after June next year.

The scheme will start this July (Copyright Unknown)

Mr Norris said: “Initially it’s for a 12-month period, but I hope if it’s successful we might be able to continue it. It’s costing me and the combined authority £8 million. That’s a big sum of money, but it’s something that’s innovative and new and that’s what we’ve got to do. This is about grabbing people’s attention and saying ‘look, this could really make a difference’.

“If you’re already a bus user you could save up to one twelfth of your bus fares in a year, which is very important and particularly in this cost of living crisis. If you’re a car user you could save in theory one twelfth of your fuel costs, because you don’t have to fill up for a month if you choose to go by bus. And there are environmental benefits from not having so many cars on the road.

“We still need to get people changing their behaviour, not using their car so much, using buses wherever they can. This is designed to get all those people who haven’t used the bus to try it for a whole month and see how good it can be.

“Because it’s got data involved as people have cards, we’ll be able to tell which groups of people are using it, how often, in which parts of the West of England they’re using it. And we’ll be able to modify what we’re doing to hopefully attract even more passengers. It’s an experiment and we’re very interested to know how we can make it work.”

Asked how often he catches the bus himself, Mr Norris replied: “Not as often as I’d like because I live in a very remote area where there aren’t bus services. But who knows, if this works and buses get more profitable as a result, we could put more services on. The whole idea is to not make profit, but to reinvest money that we get from people using buses more.”

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