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‘Transport barriers limiting opportunities for young people’

Deniz Huseyin
13 December 2023


Barriers to transport mean that young people aged from 16 to 24 make 21% fewer trips compared with other working age adults, with the gap widening in the past 20 years, says a report by the University of West England (UWE Bristol) and walking and cycling charity Sustrans.

These barriers are stopping young people accessing work, education, and social opportunities, researchers found.

The study, funded by the Health Foundation, analysed national travel data, combined with insights from in-depth interviews with young people leaving school and college.

It highlights a risk of economic and social exclusion for young people without access to a car, good public transport, or cycling.

Availability and cost of transport are the two main barriers to travel for young people, researchers found. Interviews revealed multiple instances where young people were unable to pursue opportunities, such as work experience or a better job, due to a lack of transport options and the cost of travel.

National travel data showed 16–24-year-olds without car access are 2.1 times more likely to have a low level of trip making compared with 16–24-year-olds who are the main driver of car.

It also showed young people from households with the lowest income quintile are 1.4 times more likely to have a low level of mobility (compared with highest income quintile households).

Many young people rely on buses, walking and cycling, but face barriers because bus services have been cut in recent years and safe, segregated cycle lanes do not exist in most parts of the UK, the report notes.

“This can limit the ability of many young people to access services and amenities, including education and work opportunities. The inability to access education, work and other destinations has a significant impact on individuals and wider society.”

Late adolescence into early adulthood is “a pivotal time during which young people learn skills, access life-defining opportunities, develop their values and aspirations and expand their horizons to become independent adults”, says the report. “Transport is a crucial part of this. Denying young people access to transport stifles their development. This has a knock-on impact to our economy and society.”

The report calls on local and national governments to:

  • Provide long term dedicated investment for walking, cycling and public transport
  • Devolve powers to local transport authorities to take greater control of buses
  • Provide financial support for young people to buy a cycle

Dr Kiron Chatterjee, Professor of Travel Behaviour at the UWE Bristol, said: “There has been little research on the ways that young people manage to get around using the transport system and the barriers they experience.

“This report is a crucial step in showing how young people, a key demographic for everyone’s hopes of achieving net zero, are affected by the transport system in place. The situation for young people is worsening and we need to see a change in transport policy that prevents further decline. The findings make the way forward very clear.”

Tim Burns, Head of Policy at Sustrans, said: “This report shows national and local transport policies are denying young people opportunities to education and work. This has a knock-on effect on our future economy and in our communities, which will be profoundly damaging.

“Investment will be key to removing barriers, especially those identified by young people, including improving the quality of public transport, and access to cycles and safe cycle routes.”

Transport to Thrive: Why we shouldn’t ignore the transport needs of young people 

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