Every Saturday we feature some of the best articles by young people from our SOUK workshops on Political and Media Literacy. Today’s article is by Gabriela Timoszuk on why the plan to charge teenagers for travel won’t work.

Over the past few months, the novel coronavirus has been prowling the streets of London. Being a rather populous city, it makes sense that cases would rise rapidly — especially due to the late measures. Now that the threat seems to have mostly passed, all the rules and precautions implemented a little too late are being relaxed. However, one rule still stands: social distancing. As our lifeline to safety, this measure continues to be implemented in different ways. Most recently, the government has been trying particularly hard to encourage everyone to continue social distancing. With this aim, its next step was to make public transport seem unappealing to the ones that arguably use it the most; London’s teenagers.

To ensure that (despite the slowly relaxing quarantine and social distancing measures) the teens of London refrain from taking public transport more than is absolutely necessary, the government has decided to revoke any and all free public transport privileges enjoyed by this age group. This is mostly due to the conditions of the £1.6 billion bailout deal between the TfL (Transprot for London) and the government.

Prior to this, each child and teenager aged between 11 and 18 owned an Oyster card that either allowed them to use buses and other forms of public transport free-of-charge or at a discount, depending on the child’s age. If they were to start paying for what they used to take for granted, it would certainly discourage excessive travel. It may also encourage teenagers to travel more by foot or by bike — both eco-friendly options, however small.

But not everyone agrees with the MPs. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, happens to be one of these people. In an open letter to Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, Mr Khan details his and the TfL’s views on the conditions of the bailout. Khan insists that his and the TfL’s belief is that the 30 per cent of children who currently receive free travel have the right to use it, given the significant distance many have to travel from their home to school.

In some cases, having to go by foot to school and back would be out of the question. But it’s not just about the distance from home to school the child has to travel, though that plays a significant role in the argument. The other issue is that large distances travelled on foot may come with additional danger, especially for those living in unsafe neighbourhoods.

When it comes to public transport, this is a relatively safe option. The presence of other people and the enclosed environment makes it so. Whereas outside the doors, on the grey rickety pavement, it’s a whole other story. Mr Khan’s letter also emphasises that the most disadvantaged as a result of this scheme would be the residents of London’s poorest boroughs. A quote from the letter states:

‘It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever’.

While the TfL has historically paid the bus fares of all under 18s, with the new measures this would become the responsibility of the local authorities. Not only would it prove difficult in terms of cost and finances, but it would also be problematical to switch from an already existing system to a completely new one without facing unexpected repercussions.

Even if the government decide to go through with the plan, it may not work entirely as intended. With quarantine regulations slowly lessening, some children are starting to go to school again. As stated in Khan’s open letter, 30 per cent of these children require the use of buses, and therefore will probably use them. This would slightly defeat the purpose of the fares. Children will still be using buses frequently to get around and get to school, and are likely not to adhere to social distancing rules (they are children). Furthermore, even if a child does not need to use public transport to get to school, parents may still prefer to pay their fare — especially if it’s a high-income household or the child is young.

Since June 1, the main classes allowed back in school are Reception, year 1 and 6. These year groups are often seen as younger due to being in primary school. Although Reception and year 1 are accompanied by adults to and from school (hence it is safer for them to walk or take the car), some year 6 students do make their journeys alone, rendering it unsafe for them to just walk on their own.

Another potent issue is that many families do not have the convenient option of taking a car. My family is one such example, which is why I often turn to public transport — particularly buses — as my solution. Therefore, this particular social distancing measure may not work so well; begging the question of whether it’s really worth the trouble to switch systems? – especially in a pandemic setting.

Making all under 18s pay for their fare on public transport may or may not result in better social distancing adherence. Arguably, it’s not worth it, especially when children in the most deprived areas of London will be even more disadvantaged.

Do you think it’s fair for us to pay the fare?

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.