Care Leavers Week – Free bus travel for care leavers initiative launched by regional Mayor

Young people leaving care will be able to travel for free on the West of England’s buses.

The announcement was made by Dan Norris, Mayor of the West of England, as Care Leavers Week begins.

Children growing up in care are three times less likely to be in education, employment, or training than other young people their age. They are also more prone to feeling cut off, lonely and isolated, with almost one in five saying they felt lonely always or often, say Barnado’s.

Designed for 18- to 21-year-old young care leavers living in the region, the new West of England and North Somerset-wide bus scheme will provide free travel across the West’s 350-plus square mile network – making it one of the largest schemes of its kind in the UK.

It is hoped this will allow the young people better access to work or study, getting to appointments, the shops or days out. The young people will apply for a WESTpass online for their free travel.

Feedback from the young people receiving the new bus pass has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Mayor, a former child protection officer and who says this is a scheme ‘close to his heart’, was first approached by Barnardo’s about the travel challenges facing young care leavers last year and then discussed it with local organisations including 1625 Independent People.

Leaving care can be a really challenging and daunting time for young people. It’s especially tough in a cost-of-living crisis.

I hope this free bus pass is a supportive helping hand as these young people head out on their next journey.

Mr Norris made the announcement aboard a WESTlink alongside care leavers who will benefit from their free WESTpass at Bristol Zoo Project, highlighting how young people can use their free WESTpass for more days out, and generally to get out and explore and enjoy the region.

Mayor Norris

We are really pleased to support this initiative, which will bring so many benefits to care leavers in the West of England. 

Public transport and active travel are key elements of our plans to create a new conservation zoo at Bristol Zoo Project, aiming to make our attraction even more accessible to as many people as possible

Justin Morris, Chief Executive Officer at Bristol Zoological Society, which runs Bristol Zoo Project

The scheme has been welcomed by children’s charities, including Barnado’s, who have called it a ‘lifeline’ for care leavers in the region, the Children’s Society as well as Britain’s most famous fictional care leaver, Tracy Beaker, aka actor Dani Harmer.

We are absolutely delighted that the Mayor of the West of England will be offering care leavers free bus travel. Since 2022, Barnardo’s Transport for Freedom campaign has been calling for transport authorities to create bespoke schemes for care leavers who are struggling with the cost-of-living and do not have the ‘bank of mum and dad’ to top up their fare. 

This new scheme will be a lifeline for care leavers across the West of England, many of whom rely on public transport to access education and employment or to visit friends and family. We hope that other local places look at this innovative support and roll-out their own schemes

Duncan Stanway, Assistant Director, Barnardo’s

Travel costs can be a significant challenge for our young people when it comes to accessing and sustaining work or education, as well as connecting with interests and hobbies that they value highly. 

We would like to say a huge thank you for all involved in making this happen for care-experienced young people

Rebecca Ball, Programme Manager at West of England charity 1625 Independent People

People up and down the country deserve a modern, reliable, and affordable public transport system. That is why we have provided North Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority with over £105 million to boost its bus services.

Supporting the West of England Combined Authority with introducing the WESTfares bus pass is fantastic for local care leavers, who will now be able to get to work, school and visit loved ones for free.

Roads Minister for the UK Government Richard Holden

Funding for the scheme comes from the Department for Transport’s Bus Service Improvement Plan. The West of England Mayoral Combined Authority secured the second highest settlement per head nationwide from government of this fund.

Press release by West of England Mayoral Combined Authority