Since I was crowned Youth Voice Champion in March, I’ve regularly been asked ‘what does it mean to be a Youth Voice Champion’? Of course, this is a great personal achievement, but for me, the young people I work with are the real Youth Voice Champions for having the confidence to challenge, influence and drive major decisions.
At South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), we’re passionate about keeping young people on board public transport for years to come, especially as they reach the age where they’ll be considering getting behind the wheel themselves and learning to drive. So, for me, it’s crucial we give them the chance to get their voices heard and let them help shape public transport for the future.
To make sure young people get regular opportunities to speak out, I chair regular South Yorkshire Youth Transport User Groups. In these meetings, members of the local youth councils and cabinets are invited to join me, my colleagues and local transport operators to share their views on our plans and projects for the coming months, as well as tell us how we can help make a difference to their transport experience.
Since we launched the user group in April 2017, thanks to the hard work and determination of the young people, we’ve delivered some fantastic results which I hope help improve the public transport experience for the next generation.
It’s hard for me to choose which examples to talk about as we’ve had plenty of positives, but one highlight has been the young people’s involvement in the roll out of free Wi-Fi across our Interchanges. The young people told us they can feel isolated and wary at quieter times within interchanges and that this was worse when they didn’t have a phone signal – they needed to feel connected. The young people believed if access to the internet was available, it would help people feel more relaxed knowing they will be able get hold of someone. Making sure our customers always feel safe is a key priority for SYPTE, so I took this feedback on board and free Wi-Fi is now available in all our major interchanges, which has proved popular with passengers.
I’d say our biggest achievement to date is the extension of our concessionary pass which is a direct result of my engagement with Youth Council/Youth Cabinet members. Thanks to our joint working, all young people aged 11-18 in South Yorkshire can now benefit from cheaper travel around the region. In the past, once young people hit 16, they were only entitled to this concessionary benefit if they remained in full-time education. However, the young people I work with made it clear more youngsters were choosing the apprentice route or going straight into employment and were struggling to pay full fare whilst on a low income. I saw this as a great opportunity to encourage as many youngsters as possible to stay on board public transport. So, taking on the feedback from our user group, we made the decision to extend our 16-18 concessionary travel pass so all young people living in South Yorkshire can travel for as little as 80p, whether they are at college or in work.
It’s an honour to have been crowned Youth Voice Champion and I genuinely feel lucky to get to work with some very talented young people. Without their feedback, I don’t think we would have been aware of the challenges young people face on public transport. It’s as a direct result of their dedication and enthusiasm that we’ve been able to make positive changes and for that I am grateful. I’d recommend all business and community leaders take the time to listen to, and where possible act on, the opinions of younger people. After all, they are the future.