A successful pilot project has helped to secure additional funding, via the Government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan, to expand a free travel offer to over 1,500 who have lived in care across Tyne and Wear, Durham and Northumberland.
Last year saw the launch of the project to offer young people who have recently left local authority care in Newcastle and Gateshead free travel on the local bus and Metro network to support them into adult life.
The pilot scheme, the first of its kind in the country, was a partnership between Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council, Nexus and bus operators, with funding from the NHS North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board.
This original scheme gave more than 300 young people aged 18 to 25 a Pop smart card with an annual Network One season ticket, providing a year’s free travel across all local public transport in Tyne and Wear.
One year on from the pilot launch, over 1,800 free journeys have been taken by the eligible young people on both the bus and metro network every month.
Many care-experienced young people highlighted that travel costs had a significant impact on their wellbeing, opportunities for education and work as well as their ability to socialise with family and friends. Feedback from the pilot has shown that travel cost is no longer a barrier to these opportunities.
Jason Glass, 20 from Newcastle said: “I have to travel for my job now, so the travel pass comes in really handy for getting the Metro. I didn’t know I was going to need it so much because a few weeks ago I was on universal credit so I was just using it to get to the job centre once a week but now its allowing me to get to work every day which I wouldn’t have been able to afford without it. A lot of young people need to travel and can struggle with the cost so this pass is perfect to give us more freedom.”
Cllr Lesley Storey, Cabinet Member, a Growing City, Newcastle City Council said: “The impact this project has had demonstrates our commitment to listening to the needs of our children and young people and taking positive action to address them and it is great news for the whole region that this will be expanded. We continue to use strong relationships with partners to provide services and support in a meaningful way to ensure our young people have the best possible opportunities for employment and learning and feel supported into a positive future.”
Cllr Gary Haley, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Gateshead Council, said: “There’s no better way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the pilot scheme than by talking to the young people who have benefited from the free travel and hearing what a difference it has made for them.
“The offer of free travel for even more care leavers in the region is brilliant news and we are proud to have been part of the pilot that has helped to secure the funding to make this happen.”
Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee and Leader of Gateshead Council, said: "We cannot overstate the difference that free transport will make to care experienced young people in our area, who are juggling the challenges of learning to live independently with the rising cost of living.
"The extension of the scheme across the region will make it easier for them to access learning, training and work opportunities, and most importantly will help them to develop the skills to live full, thriving and independent lives as adults."
The original scheme was kick-started with funding from the region's NHS, as the ability to travel plays an important role in our health and wellbeing.
Samantha Allen, chief executive of North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, said: "Getting free access to transport has already made a difference in many young people's lives in our region. This is another big step forward, making it easier for more young people to access training and jobs, look after their health, keep up with friends and live independently."
Providing free transport was one of the first commitments delivered by Newcastle’s Evry plan, a plan which unites partners from health, education, business, cultural and charitable sectors in an ambitious city-wide mission to support young people.