Cornwall’s reduced bus fares pilot scheme, the council’s bus service improvement plan and the results of a pilot project offering care leavers in Cornwall free bus travel were on the agenda for Department for Transport Minister Richard Holden’s visit to Cornwall last week.

Mr Holden was visiting Cornwall and travelling by bus from Cornwall Airport Newquay to Truro bus station to be told first-hand that Cornwall’s bus fares pilot which, combined with the government’s £2 flat fare single journey scheme, has encouraged more residents to get back on the bus.

Mr Holden said: “Cornwall is one of the UK’s most idyllic spots, and it’s only right that local residents and tourists enjoy a modern, efficient and sustainable bus network.

“That’s why we’ve invested £13.3 million to improve local bus services and a further £23.5 million to help Cornwall Council cap the price of local bus journeys and keep travel affordable.

“It’s also fantastic to see how the close partnership between Barnardo’s and Carefree has helped drive forward our vision for a more inclusive transport network that care leavers and those who need it most can rely on.”

Mr Holden was told improvements for passengers included 194 new low-emission buses, electronic ticket machines accepting contactless payments, bus station and bus stop upgrades, real time passenger information displays and the development of a single brand for public transport in Cornwall, “Transport for Cornwall”.

There has been a year-on-year growth in passenger numbers, interrupted by the pandemic, boosted by Cornwall’s £23.5m Government-funded Bus Fares Pilot with fares capped at £5 per day or £20 per week.

Running alongside is the government’s £2 flat fare single bus journey initiative.

Cornwall’s Bus Service Improvement Plan was recently awarded £13.3m.

The minister also met care leavers at Lys Kernow to hear from them about a pilot project in Cornwall to offer them free bus travel.

The new partnership initiative between charities Carefree and Barnardo’s, and bus operators and Cornwall Council, was part of a national “Transport for Freedom” campaign to obtain free transport for care leavers and give young people a voice at a national level.

As part of the campaign, Barnardo’s ran a pilot project in Cornwall to gauge the impact of free transport on the lives of care leavers.

Reported benefits included improved mental health, better access to work, training or study, getting to appointments and reducing isolation.

Barnardo’s CEO Lynn Perry said: “With the average cost of a weekly bus pass in the UK now more than £18, getting to work or to a job interview can come at a cost that many young people leaving the care system simply cannot afford.

“Without affordable travel, these young people often struggle to access work, education, health care, or any of the freedoms we all enjoy from a change of scene. That’s why we are calling on the Government to support and fund free bus travel for care leavers up to the age of 25.”

Mari Eggins, CEO of Carefree, said: “We hope that what we piloted in Cornwall can contribute to a national focus on helping care experienced people have good lives.”

Care leaver Samuel, 18, said: “With the cost of everything going up, and the amount of appointments that you have as a care-experienced young person for things like college and seeing your support worker, doing this without a free bus pass can be really tough.”