Free Bus Passes Appear to Open Door to Health
Benefits for Older People
Researchers point to other studies that also show
seniors more likely to be physically active if using the buses
Sept. 20, 2012 – A novel way to encourage older
people to be more physically active is to provide them with free bus
passes, say the authors of a study published today in the American
Journal of Public Health.
The study found that people with a bus pass are
more likely to walk frequently and take more journeys by "active travel"
- defined as walking, cycling or using public transport. These
associations cut across socio-economic groups, suggesting that wealthier
and poorer people are benefitting equally.
Researchers from Imperial College London reached
their conclusion by analyzing four years of data from the UK National
Keeping physically active helps to maintain mental
wellbeing, mobility and muscle strength in seniors and reduces their
risk of cardiovascular disease, falls and fractures. Previous research
has shown that 15 minutes of moderate daily exercise is associated with
a 12 per cent lower risk of death is people over 60.
Another study found that 19 per cent of adults in
Britain get their recommended amount of physical activity through active
travel alone. Public health organizations increasingly believe that
"incidental" exercise, such as walking to and from bus stops, may have a
key role to play in helping people keep fit.
Free bus passes for people aged 60 and over were
introduced in England in 2006, entitling holders to free local bus
travel after 9:30am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public
holidays. Pressure on public spending has led to proposals for the
program, which costs 1.1 billion British pounds a year, to be scrapped,
or for bus passes to be means-tested.
The scheme's proponents claim that it reduces
social exclusion among older people and ensures access to travel for
those on limited incomes. The authors of the new study believe that
possible benefits for public health should also be taken into
"Given the need to encourage older people to be
physically active, it's good news that the provision of free bus passes
seems to be having a positive impact," said Sophie Coronini-Cronberg,
from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who led the
"Before the government looks at reforming the
scheme, they should make sure we understand its value to society. We
would welcome more research in this area, such as a detailed cost
analysis to establish whether the scheme represents good value for
The researchers examined data from the National
Travel Survey from 2005, the year before free bus basses were
implemented, until 2008. They included results from respondents aged 60
or over in England, giving a total of 16,911 people. The percentage of
respondents with a free pass increased from 56.8 per cent in 2005 to
74.7 per cent in 2008.
The findings show that the biggest factor
associated with not using active travel or walking is having access to a
car. People in large urban areas are more likely to use active
transport, and people in rural areas or small towns are more likely to
report walking frequently.
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