How that free bus pass can help keep over-60s fitter: Pensioners who use perk walk more and have lower risk of heart disease
Study says over-60s who use pass take more exerciseThis in turn gives them better mobility and strengthComes as Cameron faces pressure to scrap free travel

By
Steve Doughty

PUBLISHED:

23:33 GMT, 20 September 2012

|

UPDATED:

06:34 GMT, 21 September 2012

Free bus passes are spreading good health among older people, a report by scientists said yesterday.

They found that over-60s who take advantage of their right to free bus travel are also likely to walk and take exercise.

The research project concluded that the benefits for older people who use buses include better mobility and strength and a lower risk of heart disease, falls and broken bones.

Promoting good health: Over-60s who take advantage of free bus passes are likely to walk more and take other exercise, scientists said

Promoting good health: Over-60s who take advantage of free bus passes are likely to walk more and take other exercise, scientists said

The findings, carried out by
researchers from the School of Public Health at Imperial College, come
as David Cameron is under growing pressure to scrap the perk of free bus
passes for over-60s, which costs taxpayers 1.1billion a year.

The bus passes have been a target for
cost-cutters since the recession began and their high cost has attracted
growing controversy.

The Prime Minister has promised to keep the
system, which is extremely popular among older voters, but ministers
including Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and some LibDems
think the right to free bus travel should be means tested.

Mr Cameron’s line is likely to get a
boost from the research report, which said both better off and poorer
people get health benefits from bus travel.

Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, who led the
project, said: ‘Given the need to encourage older people to be
physically active, it is good news that the provision of free bus passes
seems to be having a positive impact.

‘Before the Government looks at
reforming the scheme, they should make sure we understand its value to
society.’

The study, based on information from four years of the
National Travel Survey, which examines the travel habits of more than
16,000 people.

All aboard: Elderly people who use their free bus pass have better mobility and strength and a lower risk of heart disease and falls

All aboard: Elderly people who use their free bus pass have better mobility and strength and a lower risk of heart disease and falls

It showed that over-60s with a free
bus pass are more likely to walk frequently and to engage in what
academics describe as ‘active travel’.

This include, walking, cycling and using public transport, which in turn is likely to require walking.

'Given the need to encourage older people to be physically active, it is good news that the provision of bus passes is having a positive impact'

Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, study leader

The survey showed that the year before
free bus passes were introduced, 2005, 56.8 per cent of people were
using buses.

By 2008, the percentage of bus users had grown to 74.7 per
cent.

It also showed that the main reason that someone does not walk or engage in ‘active travel’ is that they have a car.

A reason for greater health among bus
users, the report said, is ‘incidental’ exercise walking to and from bus
stops and around towns and other destinations visited by travellers
with free passes.

Bus travel, it added, is most common
among older people in towns and cities. In small towns and the
countryside, where bus services are usually limited, older people are
more likely to walk.

But passes were introduced by then
Chancellor Gordon Brown in 2006.

They currently give pass holders free
travel on many buses after the morning peak hour and all day at weekends
and holidays.

The cost of the passes has been in
question since 2009, when local councils began to question the amount
bus companies were charging and to consider whether the passes should be
means-tested.