Schoolboy calls on Government to save free travel for London pupils – Evening Standard



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A schoolboy whose campaign to save free travel for London school pupils has gathered 160,000 signatures today called on the Government to drop the plans.

Joshua Brown-Smith, 14, from Lewisham, told Transport Secretary Grant Shapps the Zip Oyster cards were a “lifeline” and said their removal would impact disproportionally on poorer Londoners and black and minority ethnic families.

Mayor Sadiq Khan was told to temporarily axe free bus and Tube travel from under-18s as a condition of the Government’s £1.6billion coronavirus bail-out for Transport for London last month.

An escalating row between City Hall and the Department for Transport means the changes are unlikely to be implemented until the new term starts in September.

Today Joshua, in a letter to Mr Shapps signed by 50 other young leaders in London, said: “This is an issue that young people right across London are determined to oppose, with over 160,000 signing a petition calling for the reintroduction of free travel. We are now calling on you to remove this condition and to meet with us to discuss our campaign.”

Joshua, an advisor to Lewisham council’s young mayor, said he “completely relies” on his free bus pass. He said some students would be late or miss school if they were unable to take the bus.

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“Many of us take at least two buses per journey and for families with more than one young person in the home, this will be an additional financial burden,” he wrote. “In light of Covid-19 many of us who are in education have already missed a significant part of our learning and this will only add to the stress of exams and normal pressure of school life.”

Mr Shapps claimed that many bus journeys were only taken by pupils because travel was free and could be walked instead.

But academic research he relied upon in making this claim was today revealed to outline multiple benefits from free travel, such as “greater social inclusion”, reduced car travel and preventing road injuries to children.

Sarah Olney, the Lib-Dem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston who obtained the research, said: “The Government seems to be using a survey which draws overwhelmingly positive conclusions about the benefits of free bus travel for under 18s in London as a justification for scrapping it.

“In London the benefits of free bus travel for Under 18s are hard to overstate, especially given that we should be looking to get people out of cars and into public transport and other environmentally friendly types of travel.”

The DfT said demand for TfL services “clearly needs to be managed in the current climate” when capacity is significantly reduced as a result of social distancing, and said pupils should consider walking or cycling.

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