Free bus passes ‘make elderly healthier and happier’

Bus travel is free to the over-60s in Northern Ireland
Bus travel is free to the over-60s in Northern Ireland

Free bus passes are linked to increased happiness for older people, according to a new study.

People who get concessionary travel are more likely to enjoy a better quality of life, have greater life satisfaction and fewer symptoms of depression than those who do not, research led by University College London found.

Bus travel is free to the over-60s in Northern Ireland

Bus travel is free to the over-60s in Northern Ireland

The study, published in the Journal of Transport and Health, also discovered that older people with bus passes are more physically active and less socially isolated than counterparts without one.

Free bus passes are available to everyone when they reach a certain age, depending on where they live in the UK.

There have been some calls for the scheme to be limited to the less well-off as it costs around £1.17 billion a year in England alone.

Lead author of the study Dr Sarah Jackson said: “Our research shows free bus travel offers clear benefits to older people’s health and well-being.

“It helps them to stay active and facilitates better contact with friends and family, which in turn have a positive impact on mental health.

“And because mental health has knock-on effects for physical health, maintaining well-being is also likely to help people stay physically healthy in later life, reducing the financial costs associated with an ageing population.”

The research looked at surveys of 5,861 people eligible for free bus travel in England.

Bus pass holders, who represented 85% of the sample, were 37% less likely to be sedentary on a weekly basis and a third less likely to be classed as socially isolated, the study found.

The authors said being physically active and less isolated was likely to explain at least part of the increase in well-being among bus pass users.

In England, all adults are entitled to free bus travel once they reach the female state pension age. For those involved in the study, this was 62.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, free bus travel is available to people aged 60 and over.

Department for Transport figures show the number of local bus passenger journeys in England fell by 85 million or 1.9% to 4.36 billion in the year ending March 2018.

Budgetary constraints mean councils are spending less on discretionary items such as free peak travel, post-school transport and supported rural services.

Nearly half of all bus routes in England receive partial or complete subsidies from councils.

The Local Government Association has warned that these services are at risk as local authorities will struggle to maintain current levels of support unless they are given more funding.