Can free public transit improve mental health?

Do reduced fare programs help both teens and the elderly? An example from London.

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As reported at the Atlantic Cities, if several recent studies concerning London’s bus system are to be believed, reduced-fare and free transit programs have helped make teens more sociable and independent, and the elderly be more mentally stable and socially satisfied.

Because the free fare programs allow teens to travel and congregate without necessarily asking their parents for money, the study found that most teens became more independent and responsible. They also reported increased confidence, and a greater sense of societal belonging–several said they felt “more like a Londoner” when they rode the bus.

The benefits for the elderly are even more remarkable. Because the free transit allows the elderly to move about in society, there are increased “opportunities for meaningful social interaction,” in addition to seniors feeling more a part of the general public–an easy way to tackle “chronic loneliness.”

Although the MTA currently offers a variety of reduced fair options for the elderly, there are currently no free offerings. These London bus studies suggest that the MTA should explore free transit programs in order to help develop the social responsibility of the young and improve the mental wellness of the old.