A BUS operator has launched a discount travel scheme for jobseekers which is the first of its kind nationwide.
The scheme, from Stagecoach, will give thousands of jobseekers across Hartlepool and the UK a 50 per cent discount on their bus travel to help them find work.
Holders of a Jobcentreplus travel discount card will qualify for half-price single and return tickets on Stagecoach’s buses.
The scheme is being funded entirely on a commercial basis by Stagecoach without any public sector support.
It will initially run for six months, with a view to testing the potential for a permanent discount.
The initiative follows a month-long trial period in January, which saw 4,602 jobseekers take advantage of free travel in the region.
The move has been backed by Government ministers.
Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Buses are important for those people who are looking for work and attending interviews, they are also crucial to people travelling to and from work after they have been offered a job.
“Following a month long commercial trial of BusforJobs which gave free travel to jobseekers in January, I warmly welcome the fact that Stagecoach has decided to continue with a 50 per cent discount to jobseekers.
“I would encourage other operators who took part in the scheme to consider offering similar discounts to help those looking for work to find work.”
More than 800,000 people who are out of work and claiming benefits currently qualify for a Jobcentreplus Travel Discount Card, which are available through Jobcentre Plus.
Those eligible include people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support and actively engaged with a Jobcentre Plus adviser in returning to employment.
Phil Medlicott, managing director of Stagecoach North East, said: “Youth unemployment is one of the biggest issues facing our country today and we know the bus is Britain’s most important mode of public transport.
“Stagecoach already offers the lowest bus fares of any major operator in the country, making public transport affordable for those on low incomes.
“We hope this new initiative can help kick-start the careers for those who are struggling to get that first job or training place.”
A study last year by the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) at the University of Leeds revealed one in 10 bus commuters would be forced to look for another job if they could no longer commute by bus.
An estimated 400,000 people are in work or in a better job because of the availability of a bus service, according to the report.
The move comes after the Hartlepool Mail launched its Work In Progress campaign, which aims to highlight the plight of the unemployed.
The number of jobless benefit claimants in Hartlepool rose from 4,715 in December to 4,841 in January.