The Bus Passenger Survey and Concessionary Fares in the UK: More Light in the Darkness?

The Bus Passenger Survey and Concessionary Fares in the UK: More Light in the Darkness?


A Meaney, M Shepherd, Oxera Consulting Ltd.; I Wright, Passenger Focus, UK


The concessionary bus fares regimes in the UK costs over £1 billion per year, but there is a lack of understanding about who benefits. This paper will use an English passenger survey to provide insights into the beneficiaries.


While entitlement to, and coverage of, concessionary fares schemes varies between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, such a scheme for elderly and disabled people is available in all parts of the UK. These schemes typically allow certain categories of disabled people, and people over pensionable age, to travel on local buses without charge, with the government reimbursing operators for carrying these passengers. In England, the scheme has proven to be very popular since its introduction in 2000 and expansion in 2008, costing the taxpayer in England over £1 billion in 2010/11. However, as highlighted in previous ETC papers (Meaney and Last (2011) and Last (2010)), there has been a lack of analysis into who benefits from this policy.

Last (2010) presented evidence on the patterns of trip-making by concessionary pass-holders in a particular area of England. He suggested that a large proportion of concessionary pass-holders did not use their passes at all, and that a relatively small proportion of pass-holders make up the majority of journeys. However, it has previously not been possible to understand the demographics of the group.

Passenger Focus (the passenger watchdog for bus and rail passengers in the UK) commissions a regular survey of bus passengers, called the Bus Passenger Survey. This involves over 21,000 bus passengers in England (covering areas responsible for around 70% of patronage), and asks a range of demographic questions, thus enabling an understanding, for the first time, of the demographics of the passengers who travel on concessionary passes. The survey is sufficiently detailed that results can be disaggregated into local areas and into those passengers with disabilities and those using an older person's bus pass, thus permitting detailed analysis of both regional differences and differences in journey purposes.

This paper will provide details about the survey and draw insights into the demographics and journey purposes of passengers using concessionary tickets. It will provide an important contribution to the policy debate by permitting, for the first time, a more in-depth discussion of who the beneficiaries of the concessionary fares policy are, and therefore the social and economic benefits that the policy provides.


Association for European Transport