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Student bus pass guide

If you're full of good intentions to walk to your 9am lectures but always end up getting the bus, have you thought about investing in a student bus pass? Here are some of the best deals...

student bus pass

Credit (left): Alan Sansbury - Wikimedia

Buses 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/coach travel (for that see this guide).

Do you need a student bus pass?

Credit: Channel 4

If 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 are now so you've got something to compare to 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? If you get a pass you'll be paying up-front for getting there, which may be the extra encouragement you need to get out of bed on time
  • 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 multiplied by the number of journeys you take vs. cost of a bus pass for the same number of days.

How much is a student bus pass?

best student bus pass UK

Credit: 20th Century Fox

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

If you fork out 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 Manchester, an annual (academic year) Stagecoach student bus pass will set you back £250 (bringing your average fare down to 83p a day); in Liverpool it costs £285 (94p a day). However, don't forget you'll still be paying that average fare on days when you don't even take the bus.

You can get annual bus passes that last for exactly 12 months, but an academic year pass will likely be the most cost effective option if you're not sticking around in uni over the summer.

Alternatively, term passes (usually running from Sept-Dec and Jan-April/June) are a great deal that mean you won't be paying for travel over the holidays.

Find out if your uni runs its own bus 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 policies 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

popular student bus pass

Credit: Warner Bros.

Now 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 student bus pass

stagecoach student 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.

Stagecoach unirider cities
  • Aberdeen
  • Barnsley
  • Cardiff
  • Dundee, Fife, Perth, Tayside & St Andrews
  • Exeter
  • Glasgow & Ayrshire
  • Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Wiltshire
  • Guildford
  • Hull
  • Inverness
  • Lancaster
  • Leamington & Warwick
  • Liverpool & Chester
  • Manchester
  • Newcastle, Sunderland, Hartlepool & Teesside
  • Newport
  • Plymouth
  • Portsmouth
  • Preston
  • Sheffield
  • Warwick, Leamington & Coventry
  • Winchester

First Bus student passes

first bus student passYou’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.

Simply buy online and they’ll post your pass out to you.

First Bus student cities
  • Aberdeen
  • Berkshire & the Thames Valley
  • Bradford
  • Bristol, Bath & the West
  • Glasgow
  • Halifax, Calder Valley & Huddersfield
  • Leeds
  • Leicester
  • Manchester
  • Portsmouth, Fareham & Gosport
  • Potteries
  • Somerset
  • South & West Wales
  • South East & Central Scotland
  • South Yorkshire
  • Southampton
  • Wessex, Dorset & South Somerset
  • York

Arriva Student Saver Tickets

arriva student saverArriva 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.

Arriva Student Saver regions
  • North East – Durham, Tyne & Wear, Darlington, Teeside
  • Yorkshire – Leeds and surrounding areas
  • North West – Manchester, Merseyside, Chester, Wrexham, North Wales
  • Wales – Bangor, Chester, Wrexham
  • Midlands – Birmingham, Derby, Leicester, Loughborough, Stafford
  • Beds and Bucks – Oxford, Milton Keynes, Luton

Oyster cards (London)

student oyster 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.

Oyster cards can be loaded up with travelcards and passes (daily, weekly or longer). 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 no matter how far you’re travelling, 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.

If you need to switch to a different bus on your journey, as long as it’s within an hour from when you first tapped on the bus, you won’t get charged another £1.50.

You can bag 30% off Travelcard fares and bus/tram passes with an 18+ Student Oyster 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 link it to your Oyster card, and 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.

7 ways to save money on bus tickets

cheaper bus tickets

Credit: Studio Ghibli

If you only use the bus every now and then, it still pays 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 taxi fares tend to leapfrog after midnight, 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 travelled by a number of bus companies. Check out which ones may be cheaper for you.

  7. Check for university night bus services

    Some universities have introduced night bus services to help students get home safely in the dark hours — which, let’s face it, can be as early as 5pm in the winter months!

    Check with your SU to see what they have on offer as it could work out a lot cheaper (and safer) than using a regular bus route.

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!

Once you’ve sorted bus travel, have a look to see how you can make real savings on your train tickets when you head back home!


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