Transport can be young people’s ticket to a healthy future

Young people are often forgotten about when it comes to policy and transport is no different. With large sums of money being invested into making transport faster and better connected across the country, it's important that policies are in place to make getting from A to B both affordable and reliable for the younger generation. The short-term benefits from this move will ultimately benefit the future health of those moving into adulthood, helping us to create a healthier and happier society of tomorrow.

We at the Health Foundation have spent the past two years speaking to young men and women from across the UK about the barriers they face as they grow up and develop into adults. Our work has identified that poor transport can be a barrier to education, employment and other opportunities – the building blocks of a healthy life. In many places, we were told that the local transport on offer did not meet the needs of young people; that it was too expensive and not frequent enough.

This is an issue because the places we go to learn and work in our younger years are vital to setting ourselves up for a healthy future and the potential risks posed by any barriers to accessing these should not be underestimated. Those who are unable to access education, work, services, or maintain relationships with friends, family and communities due to a lack of adequate transport infrastructure face serious implications for their independence and quality of life. A lack of transport options can also make relationships difficult and ultimately result in feelings of isolation, not to mention limiting access to vital local youth services.

In the past two decades we've witnessed a decline in the numbers of young people driving and an increased reliance on a diminishing public transport infrastructure. Learning to drive is often seen as a key milestone in the journey to adulthood but for some the cost makes this out of reach. This creates a divide between those who can afford to drive and those who must rely on buses and trains, a divide which goes way beyond freedom and convenience. Addressing these transport issues, and in turn opening up the next generation to more opportunities, is just one way that we can help to address widening health inequalities in our society.

That's not to say that there haven't been steps in the right direction. The recently launched national 16-17 Saver railcard was clearly aimed at addressing the cost of transport and will help millions of young people get to school or to their first experiences in the workplace. While the impact of this scheme on health might not be immediately visible, the significance of its positive impact on the futures of those who benefit should be celebrated. But is cheaper travel for one more of your teenage years going to fully address the wider transport issues that are narrowing education and employment choices?

One thing we can say for certain is that the transport issues facing young people vary across the country and this must be responded to by policymakers both at a national and regional level. We are seeing some positive movement locally with the recently launched Our Pass initiative championed by Andy Burnham in Manchester, which allows 16-18-year-olds to travel for free on local buses right across Greater Manchester. Additionally, the Apprenticeship Travelcard launched by the Liverpool City Mayor is giving young apprentices half price train travel. One thing that both of these schemes have in common is their emphasis on the connection between transport, education and the world of work. Having joined up policies which enable young people to access the key building blocks for a healthy future, including secure work and the right skills, is vital for securing our nation's greatest asset, the future health of our society.

Transport's role in this cannot be played down. Young people who can rely on transport are likely to have greater chances to access opportunities at a critical time when their life chances are shaped.

The Health Foundation's Young people's future health inquiry has included research and engagement across the UK to understand the influences affecting the future health of people aged 12-24. The inquiry seeks to understand the ability young people have to access the core building blocks of health – a place to call home, secure and rewarding work, and supportive relationships with their friends, family and community. As part of this we are working with Sustrans and the University of the West of England to develop policy recommendations on how best to ensure that our transport policies are fit for purpose when it comes to young people. To find out more, visit