#SootinClaimon.Com : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation.
In ageing South Korea, free subway rides for the elderly become a political headache
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2023
In Seoul, where almost 1.7 million people are 65 or older, more than 233 million subway free rides were taken last year. That cost Seoul Metro some 315 billion won ($250 million) last year, equivalent to 30% of its debt, Seoul Metro data showed.
Park Gyung-sun waits patiently for passengers to filter out of a subway train at a bustling station in the heart of Seoul.
The 71-year-old, who works part-time as a courier for a delivery company, lets off a slight sigh as he slumps into a priority seat on board the underground train, which is usually reserved for elderly people of his age group. Although Park isn’t living below the poverty line, he still needs a part-time job to make a little extra cash and live comfortably. And thanks to the Seoul subway system, he travels entirely for free, as people over the age of 65 are granted free rides, no questions asked.
Park is one of South Korea’s growing number of “silver delivery” couriers, which completely rely on their free underground pass to work. Park rides around Seoul all day via metro delivering flowers, documents or other packages, earning a monthly income of 600,000-700,000 won ($470-550), and getting a healthy workout in the process.
Despite the service they offer, many “silver delivery” couriers like Park are at the centre of a public debate about raising the standard age that qualifies for free subway rides, as Seoul’s local government claims the influx of free riders is creating a massive financial burden. Amid a rapidly ageing population and soaring operating costs, subway systems in South Korea’s metropolises are increasingly grappling with snowballing losses from free rides for old people.
More than 18% of South Korea’s population of 51 million is aged 65 or older. That proportion is projected to hit 30% in 2035 and 40% in 2050, according to the country’s statistics agency.
“If we have to pay for the subway, we will have to think about another alternative (jobs),” said Park, during a 40-minute trip to deliver a banner to a funeral home in southern Seoul.
His company, Silver Quick Subway Delivery, has about 30 employees and delivers anything portable to anywhere the 23 Seoul metropolitan subway lines reach, which means they can travel as far as 200 km (124 miles), for a fee of 11,000-30,000 won ($9-24), according to its owner, Bae Ki-geun. The company strategically only hires seniors who can qualify for the free passes, as the work requires employees to “travel a lot by subway and it costs a lot,” said Bae.
“We’ve tried (hiring younger people) before, but it’s not possible to hire people under the age of 65 in this field,” Bae added.
In the capital, where almost 1.7 million people are 65 or older, more than 233 million free rides were taken last year. That cost Seoul Metro some 315 billion won ($250 million) last year, equivalent to 30% of its debt, Seoul Metro data showed.
In 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the losses peaked at 371 billion won ($292.45 million) from more than 274 million free rides. The situation has city governments locking horns with the finance ministry, which rejects their calls for the national government to shoulder some of the surging costs.
The dispute is part of broader challenges for Asia’s fourth-largest economy which faces growing demand for senior welfare despite one of the world’s lowest birth rates.
Seoul city unveiled plans in December to raise base metro fares by up to 30% starting in April, citing the mushrooming debt, and said the national government should help as the policy began under authoritarian rule in the 1980s. However, the finance ministry has refused the demand, saying the state has already funded building and improving subway systems and local authorities are responsible for operating them.
A Gallup poll released last week showed 60% of South Koreans support raising the minimum age for senior citizen benefits to 70 and 34% opposed it. It showed little signs of a generational divide, but some young voters said there need to be broader social discussions over ways to better support the underprivileged, while others said welfare standards should be updated as the country is rapidly changing into an ageing society.