A guide to student bus passes

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By in Student Travel. Updated August 2016.

No one would choose to go by bus if they had a Bentley on stand-by. But with buses bossing cheap transport, getting a pass could net you big savings…Student busesBuses aren’t always the quickest, cheapest or, heck, even comfiest means of getting about town – but they’re green, economical and don’t leave you dependent on taxis or mates with motors.

Most university cities have local bus operators offering student passes and, depending on where you live, there could be massive savings to be had.

If you’re not sure whether you need one, where to get one or, dammit, where you parked the car, read on for tips and tricks to riding the road on the cheap.

Just to be clear: we’re talking everyday bus travel within your local city here, not long-distance bus travel (for that see this guide).

Do I need a student bus pass?

paying bus driverIf you do the same bus journey every day – and bus it on nights out and other short trips – then you’ll most likely be better off with a pass.

Arm yourself with at least a hazy notion of how much your typical weekly travel costs now so you’ve got something to compare against later in this guide.

Points worth considering:

  • If you live close enough, would you consider walking, cycling or running? Is it something you’re equipped for and can do safely?
  • How often do you miss lectures or study sessions? Whether you turn-up or skive is your call – but if you get a pass you’ll be paying up-front for getting there
  • If you have a disability you may already be entitled to funds or help getting around town, or could be eligible for free or reduced fares. Talk to your uni or service provider
  • If you’re a student of 18 years or under (child genius?) you can probably already get discounted travel – get the deets from operators in your area
  • Some local bus services offer return journey fare savers which can save you some cash if you don’t travel enough for a pass
  • Got access to trams, metro trains or river services? Check if your journey could be cheaper on one of those (and apply this guide’s advice to score savings however you get around town)
Sum it out for yourself: Single bus fare X no. of journeys Vs. cost of a bus pass for the same number of days.

What’s the best pass to get?

crossroadsBuying an annual bus pass may be a mighty initial tug on the purse strings, but does come with the greatest potential for savings and most flexibility for travelling when you want.

If you bust the cash up-front you don’t have to worry about it again for a whole year, and won’t be stuck without a ride when times are lean (it could be worth allocating the cost from your first loan or grant payments).

In Lancaster, an annual Stagecoach unirider pass will set you back £350 (bringing your average fare down to 98p a day); in Liverpool it costs £255 (71p a day). On the other hand, you’ll still be paying that average fare on days when you don’t even take the bus.

Some annual passes run from an already-defined start date (normally start of the year) rather than just from whenever you buy your pass, so you’ll need to start using it as early as possible to make the biggest savings. Alternatively, look for weekly or even termly passes – they cost less per pop and you’ll only be paying for when you’re in residence.

Find out if the uni runs its own service, as they may have their own discount or pass schemes. Otherwise, bear in mind that there may be more than one student bus operator in the area – stack-up what each offers to see where you can get the best deal and service. And don’t assume you’re priced out of the pass you want: scope out the zone boundaries – you may just need to change route slightly or pick-up from a different bus stop.

You may need to provide student ID to get your pass, and might even have to show it every time you travel. Operators all have different takes on replacing lost or stolen passes, or refunding you if you want to cash-in early: find out before you get stung.

Popular Student bus passes

cat busNow you’re sure you need a student bus pass, it’s time to work out where to get it!

Different private bus operators cover different regions and cities, and routes within them. They don’t all offer discount student passes, but the big ones that cover the UK mainland are listed below.

In Northern Ireland you can check out operators such as Translink, who do a yLink card (1/3 off bus and rail journeys).

As well as our list, you can get more info about local passes from your uni or SU Welfare office, freshers’ fairs, and tourist or travel information offices.

Stagecoach UniRider

unirider bus passStagecoach operate services in many university cities across England and have a strong presence in Scotland. Their student bus pass, the UniRider, is one of the best-value passes for students out there.

The cost varies from city-to-city (related to variations in single ticket prices) and you can book and buy online. Click here for current prices.

Click for list of UniRider locations

First Group student passes

First group busYou’ll find the pink and white buses of First Group in a number of university cities across mainland UK, including Manchester, Leeds and Bristol (full list below).

Annual, monthly and termly passes are available: visit their student site for current prices.

Click for list of First Group student cities

Arriva Student Saver

Arriva bus passArriva are a major bus operator in many university cities, and do a student bus pass called Student Saver.

Daily, weekly, monthly, termly and yearly passes are all on offer, though not for all areas.

Click for list of Arriva Student Saver regions

Oyster cards (London)

osyter cardBuses in London are cash-free: to travel on one, you’ll need to get yourself an Oyster Card from Transport for London or use a contactless bank card.

These cards can be loaded up with travelcards and passes (daily, weekly or longer) and tapped-in and out to travel on most buses, trains, tubes and river services across London.

They can also be loaded with cash and used pay-as-you-go – with a handy daily capped rate (so you won’t pay more than the equivalent day travelcard).

A single bus journey costs a flat-rate £1.50 and it’s also worth knowing that if your balance or travel card runs out, you can make one more trip without adding funds, so you won’t get stranded somewhere.

Bear in mind that if you have to switch buses during your journey, even if it’s just for a stop or two, you’ll have to tap in again and be charged another £1.50. The current Mayor of London has revealed plans to scrap this annoying technicality – we’ll let you know if/ when changes are made!

You can bag 30% off travelcard fares and bus/tram passes with an 18+ Student Card. It costs a tenner and you’ll need a London address, proof of student status and a recent photo to get one. If you’ve got a 16-25 railcard, you can combine discounts to get 34% off some off-peak fares.

Check out our London student city guide for more information on getting the most out of the Capital.

6 Ways to save money on bus tickets

how to save money on bus passesIf you only use the bus every now and then you’ll still want to be fare-savvy – here are our top tips on how to save on bus journeys.

  1. Use free inner-city buses

    An increasing number of cities, including Manchester and Leeds, offer free metro buses. Their routes often pass through university campuses and other student hot-spots. Check your local transport website and, if your city has one, make the most of it!

  2. Find out where the price zones are

    You could save a good amount of money by simply walking to the next stop in order to enter into a different bus zone. Check the bus operator’s website for a network map and ticket prices.

  3. Avoid peak times

    Try to travel when others don’t as tickets may be cheaper off-peak. Peak periods typically fall around morning/afternoon rush hour. Similarly, whereas fares tend to leapfrog after midnight (taxi, anyone?), riding the bus in the dead hours can be cheap as chips.

    However you travel, please don’t compromise safety just to save a buck, though.

  4. Borrow a pass

    We’re not saying you should do this (and some operators strictly forbid it) but riding on a mate’s pass – when they’re not using it, obvs – is a common student emergency trip tip.

  5. Don’t use the bus…

    Walk to uni, and stick the bus fare you would have paid each time into a savings jar. You’ll have something to fan yourself with when everyone else is skint at the end of term, plus change to splurge on books, burgers or even a bike (another fare-busting option).

  6. Use the cheapest bus company

    In some cities the same bus route is traveled by a number of bus companies. Check out which ones may be cheaper for you.

This guide is about local bus travel, but if you’re thinking about making a journey out of the uni bubble, start with Megabus for tickets from £1 or National Express who often have deals for students throughout the year. More advice on national coach travel here!

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4 Responses to “A guide to student bus passes”

  1. Jill

    08. Sep, 2015

    We live in a rural area and have to use a service bus with no concession , so over £5 a day even for students , any suggestions please?

    Reply
    • Jake Butler

      09. Nov, 2015

      Hi Jill, which area is this? Unfortunately some companies in rural areas charge a lot as there is very little competition. Aside from looking out for weekly, monthly or annual tickets there is not much else that you can do.

      Reply
  2. kayleigh

    16. Apr, 2015

    west midlands bus pass are all right they do a one term and three termat the start of the year and then a 2 term after xmas

    Reply
  3. Adi

    11. Nov, 2011

    Some cities, I know Leeds and Bradford do, run a free city bus scheme and the stops include the local universities, so people may want to check these out.

    Reply

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