Free bus passes 'have health benefits', UK study suggests

Older people getting on a bus Pressures on public spending may mean that the free bus travel scheme could be ended

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Free bus passes encourage the over-60s to be more physically active, whether they are poor or wealthy, say UK researchers.

Free bus travel for over-60s in England was introduced in 2006 but there is pressure for the scheme to be scrapped.

In a study, in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers analysed data on the travel habits of 16,900 people over four years.

They say the scheme "may offer value for money" among older people.

The Imperial College London study examined data from the National Travel Survey from 2005, the year before free bus passes were introduced, until 2008. They looked at the travel diaries of 11,218 people with a free bus pass and 5,693 without a pass.

The percentage of respondents with a free bus pass increased from 56.8% to 74.7% between 2005 and 2008.

Over the same period there was an increase in the percentage of bus pass holders walking three or more times a week and the study found that these people were more likely to undertake any 'active travel' - which was defined as walking, cycling or using public transport.

Start Quote

Although the costs of the scheme are considerable, it may offer value for money as it seems to promote physical activity among older people...”

End Quote Sophie Coronini-Cronberg Imperial College London

After analysing different sub-groups of bus pass holders, the study found that women over the age of 70 and living in London or in urban areas were significantly more likely to use buses and walk three or more times a week than those without bus passes.

Spending pressure

Free bus passes for people aged 60 years and over were introduced in England in 2006. They entitle holders to free local bus travel after 09.30 on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays.

However, pressures on public spending may mean that the free bus travel scheme, which costs £1.1bn a year, could be ended, or bus passes could become means-tested.

Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, who led the study from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said the public health benefits of the scheme should be taken in to consideration when deciding its future.

"Although the costs of the scheme are considerable, it may offer value for money as it seems to promote physical activity among older people, thereby helping to reduce inactivity-related mortality and morbidity."

The study found that the health benefits of the policy could be maximized by looking at other barriers to public transport use such as "poor access and inconvenience, ease of car use, and poor pedestrian access of neighbourhoods".

Although the number of people with free bus passes has increased since 2006, the study found a reduction in overall bus use and walking.

This suggests that there is still a downward trend in physical activity and public transport use among people with free bus passes and those without.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @62.Luci S
    I am sorry but you're being short sighted & a lot are here. Who do you think pays for this (literal) free ride? And with a working population & all these freebies given to the oldies, the oldies will soon out number the worker bees. Also the worker bees won't have any incentive to save because hey, we'll get freebies when we hit 62 too! Then who pays?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    It is so fun to visit London, and chat with the Nans when in the bus or waiting at the bus stop. I love how they get out early to shop.

    It is cynical to cut elderly people off from the rest of society when they are trying to live on a pension. Hope the Nans can keep the politicians from cutting off the bus passes.

    I have seen how bus service cuts hurts the mobility of the elderly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Free bus passes to pensioners mean they can have a social life, do activities, see friends and family, instead of being restricted to the area around where they are living

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Typical softening up exercise, the threat to scap the pass. Why not scrap it and consign us all to nothing to look forward to for a lifetimes work? As long as we pay the EU £53m per day everything will be alright then. What a dustbin of a country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I have just turned 60 and have finished work but not able to get my bus pass until I receive my state pension in 2 years time. I should imagine by the time that comes round the whole system will have been scrapped!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    @51Marathon Pixie
    It's short sighterd on to only see the group who benefits.
    Tell me about the the poor single mum working hard to put her kids through a good school. That struggling business who can't hire that young kid now because tax has gone up? Does your heart bleed for them too? If none of these groups were taxed so heavy, they'd All be better off! The moral answer is freedom, not theft

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    You do not get a free bus pass when you reach 60 now.ive just turned 60 and been told by the council i will have to wait until i am nearly 63 to qualify for one .

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    As an OAP resident in Germany, where do I get my bus pass to enable me to use public transport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    This study addresses physical benefits; there are immeasurable benefits to pensioners being able to travel at no extra cost. Also buses will run with/without people using free bus passes so only adding marginally to expense

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Eventually the state will have to rein back the over generous universal benefits paid to the one section of society which the politicians are so scared of upsetting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Not just OAPs... my husband is disabled and has one, which as he doesn't drive & I work 45 miles away, means that he can get out and about during the daytime, keeping him active and letting him enjoy trips out even when I'm not there to take him.

  • Comment number 52.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    @35 Expat Andy - the example you speak of would end up paying far more if those ladies were in a poorer state of health due to having less freedom to get out and about. Scrapping free passes would be extremely short-sighted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Older people in this country are likely to have worked and paid taxes all their lives and it is right that when they reach to appropriate age they are entitled to a few perks funded by the state. The cost of giving them free bus passes is miniscule compared to the money we throw at overseas aid and interfering in other countries. Leave them alone, we will all be old one day

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    @46.Opposing POV

    Families should look after their parents themselves, that's true compassion. Forcing a stranger to give up their money so that your Granny can go for a ride is disgusting. Go with Gran yourself, that's compassion & love. The alternative (socialism) is immoral.

    If you want something for free from you neighbour don't steal it, you'd go to jail! Ask your local MP to do it :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    There are an awful lot of over 60s still working and use the bus pass to travel to & from work. Surely the travel pass was meant for people who are retired, so why can`t the times be changed to be used after 9am like it was originally, surely this would save some money and in some places ease the amount of people travelling in rush hour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    So Andy thinks that pensioners are benefiting from 'other people's money'. I paid taxes all my working life and now I am paying taxes on my pensions because I was prudent enough to save. How about the unemployment, child, single parent or other state benefits I have never claimed in my life? 'Free' bus pass? - I have worked hard for it so I will enjoy all the jaunts I can at my own expense!I

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    The true sign of a country's greatness is how it treats its elderly. I for one want to enjoy life when I get old, not just sit in a care home and be treated like a toddler.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    @36.Global Yawning. I suppose it's more to do with all the other costs of running public transport, wages, maintenance and petrol and lost revenue due to the over-60s not paying for all of their travel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Oh dear! Another logical fallacy: Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Those who can't use a bus pass won't get one in the first place.

    @36.Global Yawning: Given 9.2 million people in the UK over 65 (2011 census), £1.1bn is around £120/pa each. On my bus service, an annual ticket for the South of England is just .. £980. £120 is cheap!


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