Free bus passes have health benefit, say researchers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 10:56am

Free bus passes for the elderly could be the way to go in Hong Kong to boost public health. Not only do they benefit the pocket, they also encourage older people to be more physically active, according to a new study published in the
American Journal of Public Health.

Imperial College London researchers reached this conclusion after analysing data from the National Travel Survey from 2005 to 2008. In April 2006, a bus pass scheme for people aged 60 and older began, entitling holders to free travel anywhere in England from 9.30am to 11pm on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays.

In a poll of 16,911 people 60 and older, the researchers found that those - both wealthier and poorer - with a bus pass are more likely to walk frequently and take more journeys by "active travel", which is defined as walking, cycling or using public transport.

Previous research has shown that 15 minutes of moderate daily exercise, or even just walking to and from bus stops, is associated with a 12 per cent lower risk of earlier death in people over the age of 60.

In Hong Kong, the elderly (defined as being 65 and older) don't travel for free but pay a concessionary rate of HK$2 per trip for most public transport services. This scheme, which also applies to eligible people with disabilities, was launched on June 28 and is being rolled out in three phases until the first quarter of next year. Each phase adds more transport options.

But the English scheme is facing pressure to be scrapped, as it costs £1.1 billion (HK$13.8 billion) a year.