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More than A to B: the role of free bus travel for the mobility and wellbeing of older citizens in London


This study contributes to the literature on mobility and wellbeing at older ages through an empirical exploration of the meanings of free bus travel for older citizens, addressing the meanings this holds for older people in urban settings, which have been under-researched. Taking London as a case study, where older citizens have free access to a relatively extensive public transport network through a Freedom Pass, we explore from a public health perspective the mechanisms that link this travel benefit to determinants of wellbeing. In addition to the ways in which the Freedom Pass enabled access to health-related goods and services, it provided less tangible benefits. Travelling by bus provided opportunities for meaningful social interaction; travelling as part of the ‘general public’ provided a sense of belonging and visibility in the public arena – a socially acceptable way of tackling chronic loneliness. The Freedom Pass was described not only as providing access to essential goods and services but also as a widely prized mechanism for participation in life in the city. We argue that the mechanisms linking mobility and wellbeing are culturally, materially and politically specific. Our data suggest that in contexts where good public transport is available as a right, and bus travel not stigmatised, it is experienced as a major contributor to wellbeing, rather than a transport choice of last resort. This has implications for other jurisdictions working on accessible transport for older citizens and, more broadly, improving the sustainability of cities.

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The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence . The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Judith Green, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 15–17 Tavistock Place, London WC1E 7HT, UK. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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