With fares spiralling upward and new proposals to limit free travel for pensioners and younger people, our Transport and Health Group has been evaluating the impacts of free bus travel for children and older people on public health, as well as economic costs and benefits.
Working in partnership with the Institute of Child Health at University College London and the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, the 3-year On the Buses project is producing some fascinating findings, which researchers hope will inform future transport policy.
Many of the results from the work on young people will be published in early 2013, but older people are the focus of a research paper published this month.
Here, lead author Dr Judith Green argues that for this age group, bus travel is as much about the journey as the destination.
When times are tough, universal benefits such as free bus passes for all older citizens may look like a luxury we can’t afford. But bus passes are really important to older people’s health and quality of life.
Older citizens were unanimous on the importance of free bus passes. Not only were they a vital resource for being able to shop around to manage budgets, get to hospital appointments and maintain social lives without worrying about the cost of travel, they also had far reaching implications for public health.
Bus travel is key to enabling social interaction and participation. If buses didn’t have to be paid for, you could just take a ride on as many buses as you wanted, just to see what was going on. On the buses, there is always someone to chat to, and you can experience the everyday, chaotic life of London as a participant. Loneliness is a major risk for health, but with a Freedom Pass there was no need ‘be ‘bored living alone in the flat’ as you could ‘go out every day’.
Compared to those living in places with poorer bus services, older citizens in London did not mind not driving: using the bus is just what everyone does, and using a bus makes you feel part of the city. For the sustainability of our cities, public transport needs to be like this everywhere, so bus travel loses its low status as a mode of transport. Taking away universal bus passes will be a step backwards, reiterating that only ‘poorer’ older people need buses. For healthy ageing, and healthy cities, universal free travel for older citizens seems a small price to pay.
Green J, Jones A, Roberts H. (2012) More than A to B: the role of free bus travel for the mobility and wellbeing of older citizens in London. Ageing and Society
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