The health and welfare ministry has decided to seek interpretation of provisions on the benefit of free subway rides granted to senior citizens ‘aged 65 and older’ under the senior citizen’s welfare act and receive advice from experts in connection with discussions over the need to hike the threshold age for this privilege.
The current senior citizen’s welfare act states, “The central government or autonomous (metropolitan) governments may allow ‘people aged 65 and older’ to use public transportation for free or at a discount.” On this provision, the Daegu metropolitan government has claimed that since the threshold age is suggested not as ‘from 65’ but ‘people 65 and older,’ it should be okay to raise the threshold age for free rides to people aged 70 and older. The city government interprets the provision as ’65 and older’ can be age 66 or even 70.
Commenting on this issue, a health and welfare ministry official said Sunday, “We are discussing internally (about the interpretation of the eligible age for the senior citizens’ welfare act and need for adjustment),” adding, “In addition to the interpretation of the provision, we will also seek advice from experts.” The ministry is the state agency in charge of the senior citizen’s welfare act, including the free subway fare benefit provision for senior citizens. The government and ruling party said Friday that they would discuss possible adjustment of the threshold age for senior citizens as part of measures to reduce subway deficits stemming from senior citizens’ free subway rides.
If the ministry concludes Daegu city’s interpretation of ’65 and older’ is accurate, there will be a way to adjust the threshold age for the benefit. The current senior citizens’ welfare act suggests that the central government and metropolitan governments be allowed to determine whether to give free subway rides or a discount to senior citizens aged 65 and older. Such benefits include admission to palaces, museums, and parks.
The Seoul metropolitan city for its part stressed Sunday, “Free subway rides is a state affair in nature and is a responsibility of the central government. This statement comes after the finance and economy ministry indicated that the central government could not accept the Seoul metropolitan government’s demand to reimburse losses from free subway rides. The economy and finance ministry claims that the central government and metropolitan governments are responsible for the operation of national railroads and metro subways, respectively, and that there is no legal ground that obliges the central government to share the cost.
The threshold age for free subway rides has never changed for 39 years since the policy was introduced in 1984. However, unlike the situation at the time of its introduction, the proportion of senior citizens in the total population has increased significantly. The ratio of people aged 65 and older jumped from 5.9 percent in 1984 to 17.5 percent last year. The ratio is projected to surpass 40 percent in 2050. Hence, experts have said that metropolitan governments are shouldering the burden of excessive losses resulting from senior citizens’ free rides.