Beth Ferguson, EA Outreach Project Officer with Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster, gives her thoughts on the recent Translink Youth Forum meeting held on Thursday 17th October.
On Thursday 17th October, Translink Youth Forum (TYF) held a youth roadshow in Fermanagh House, Enniskillen to celebrate their tenth year. The project is a joint partnership between Translink and Youth Forum. In previous years, TYF hold a regional event in Belfast. However, it often results in a biased view of young people living in urban areas; as it often underrepresents rural youth. Therefore, TYF held four localised events across the region. Roughly five schools in the local area where invited with over 40 young people attending the morning.
The aim of the roadshow was to promote and listen to the voice of young people regarding their use of public transport through meaningful and engaging participation. Thus, this is in direct correlation with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that provides that every young person has the right to “freely express her or his views, in all matters affecting her or him, and the subsequent right for those views to be given due weight”. The views of the young people present at the event would then be reported back to Translink in order to revise such services. The young people engaged in four workshops in total: the ideal bus journey; creating a new bus pass; young people’s use and barriers of using public transport; and the environmental responsibility of Translink.
The main barriers to young people using public transport are as follows: the cost of using public transport in off-peak times (weekday evenings and weekends); sparse bus routes in rural areas and Translink’s lack of communication. Regarding the first point, many of the young people voiced their frustration at the cost of using public transport. Indeed, the Education Authority (EA) issue a bus pass for all pupils who live more than three miles away from their school, which can only be used during peak times – that is, before and after school. However, this also means that young people are restricted in their access to social activities in the evenings and weekends; particularly when they have no other means of transport. It has therefore been suggested that the EA should extend the remits of their bus passes for young people. It should also be noted that only school-goers receive a bus pass; it does not account for those who study in regional colleges or are undertaking an apprenticeship.
Moreover, the young people were encouraged to discuss their use of a Translink youth-based bus pass. The ‘ylink’ has been created for young people aged between 16 and 23 years and receive a third off all bus and rail travel when presented during payment. The young people at the event however were not keen in using one for two reasons. First, it costs £8.00 to purchase a card; not including the cost of acquiring suitable passport photos or the fee induced when another card needs reissued. Therefore, the young people said that saving a third off travel perhaps would not cover the cost of attaining a card; particularly if they use their EA bus pass during peak times. Secondly, the young people felt they wouldn’t get use of the ylink card due to the limited bus routes to their local area. As mentioned, bus routes were a significant discussion point in and of itself.
The young people who attended the event appeared to have a sound grasp on the pressures Translink face in running an economically stable and environmentally conscious service in a rural area, and therefore did not particularly voice the need to extend bus frequency. However, it was noted that a significant number of young people felt that Translink could increase the number of stops in a bus journey. For example, rather than stopping at each major town, they could add additional stops in between each town; thus, increasing young people’s accessibility to bus routes. More specifically, bus routes should be revised to add stops inside three miles from school premises. Some of the young people were frustrated that they are not issued with a bus pass because they live within three miles of the school, yet the bus passes their house every day. This would involve a joint effort between EA revising the remits of their bus pass and a revision of bus stops in Translink’s bus journey. Therefore, creating a bus route that is accessible for more young people to use is environmentally conscious as it should decrease the use of private transport in rural areas.
Another issue that was mentioned by the young people was the inadequate communication methods from public transport schemes. An improvement on branding and advertisement were voiced as significant issues for young people. Moreover, they also stated that bus timetables outside their regular route are confusing and not child-friendly. Bus timetables printed off at bus stops in rural areas are not easily understood by young people and are often inconsistent and out-of-date. This is in comparison to bus stops in urban areas that have electronic timetables that are updated with when the next bus is due and its route. Perhaps if Translink seek to make bus timetables more accessible and easily understood by young people in rural areas, young people would have more confidence in using public transport.
The fourth workshop covered the ideal bus journey. Notably, young people felt that there is a significant disparity between young people’s experience of public transport in rural areas compared to those living in urban areas. For example, the young people stated that bus journeys in rural areas are often cold, uncomfortable, damp and isolating. Moreover, communication between bus drivers and young passengers seemed to be an issue. For those travelling via an EA funded bus (a yellow bus), the young people felt that the drivers were receptive and friendly. In comparison, those who travelled via a Translink bus felt that there was a lack of respect and communication between the passenger and bus driver. The young people felt that they were uncomfortable in asking questions to bus drivers because it often made them feel awkward and unintelligent due to the lack of response they receive in return. The negative experiences of bus drivers felt by young people in rural areas is perhaps a significant reason why young people are reluctant to explore and make better use of public transport.
In summary, the issues that have arisen from the roadshow can be held accountable to both Translink and the EA. These issues can be easily rectified without a major increase in expenditure; yet requires a more conscious effort to make public transport more accessible and enjoyable for young people living in rural areas.