Just the ticket? Exploring the contribution of free bus fares policy to quality of later life
Andrews, G. (2012) Just the ticket? Exploring the contribution of free bus fares policy to quality of later life. PhD, University of the West of England. Available from: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/16858
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Increasing longevity and the rapidly ageing UK population present policy makers with the considerable challenge of providing suitable mobility options that facilitate the maintenance of an acceptable quality of life in older age. Since April 2008, UK National Concessionary Fares policy has granted older people in England the right to free unlimited nationwide bus travel; introduced with the specific objectives of addressing social exclusion and encouraging modal shift from car to bus. The literature review discusses the plethora of research that emphasises the key role that mobility plays in maintaining quality of life; both through providing access to basic needs, but also its contribution to certain ‗higher level‘ needs for independence and interaction with others. The literature finds that, particularly in later life (when mobility can be adversely affected by age related processes), the journey itself can represent more than simply the act of travelling between destinations and as such can have intrinsic value in its own right. This thesis identifies and addresses two gaps in existing understanding. First, the current evaluative approach to Concessionary Fares policy has hitherto been focused solely on the aggregate level trips, at the expense of incorporating the very rich contextual information that can inform us about the full subjective benefits of the pass. Second, there is currently a weak understanding of the potential ways in which the provision of a free bus pass can contribute to older peoples‘ quality of life. The empirical research took a two-pronged approach in collecting new data on the pass holders‘ use of their passes. First, an on-board bus survey of pass holders in Exeter (Southwest England) in December 2009 provided aggregate-level data on how pass holders were using their free passes. Statistical analysis using SPSS was conducted to identify factors that affect propensity to increase trips by bus since obtaining a pass, and affect the likelihood of pass holders reporting an improved quality of life. Second, ten qualitative focus groups were held with pass holders with varying bus availability and abilities to use the bus. These were analysed using a combination of manual analysis methods and NVivo, to gain an understanding of the day-to-day use of the pass and behavioural change, and furthermore the creation of individually meaningful benefit that contributes to pass holders maintaining an acceptable quality of life. The thesis finds the greatest uptake in bus use to be amongst younger pass holders and those who would have driven in the absence of the free bus pass, suggesting the policy‘s contribution to modal shift from car to bus. Additional benefits emerged, including an avoidance of driving at night and in congested areas. Older pass holders were found to be less likely to increase their travel by bus, but interestingly were more likely to report improving their quality of life than younger pass holders, suggesting that providing a free bus fare offers benefits above and beyond the simple ability to increase bus use. In addition, by virtue of being free, innovative uses of the bus emerged, including timed route challenges and ‗bus roulette1‘. Moreover, the bus was found to represent an informal social space for interaction with others, whilst the pass enabled holders to justify trips that they could not have justified if there were a cost, but which are of utmost importance to their quality of life. It is concluded that England‘s Concessionary Fares policy, whilst providing significant life quality benefits for many older people, has impacted on the bus landscape at many levels; at the aggregate level through increasing state subsidy and through changing the decision to use the bus, and at the disaggregate level through changing the decision-making process and micro-level bus-using behaviours. In this context, a range of policy amendments are considered, such as limiting the number of trips allowed under the scheme, or ensuring that pass holders understand that a service which is free to them does come at a real public cost, as this may change decisions about intensity of use. In terms of future research, it is recommended that further broad social impact analysis is conducted to establish more fully the wider benefits, rather than policy evaluation predominantly focussing on historic, cross-cohort trip rates.
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