Atlantic Cities

Are London's Public Buses the New Prozac?

Are London's Public Buses the New Prozac?
Bikeworldtravel/Shutterstock

Is there a way to grind up London's buses and put the powder into swallowable tablets? The health mojo of these vehicles seems impressive, with research indicating they benefit hoary ol' gadges and school-age juvies alike.

First came a 2012 study suggesting that people over age 60 who ride the buses for no cost (via the Freedom Pass) have commendable mental health. And that wasn't just because people love free things, the researchers wrote in Ageing & Society: "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."

Now the same team of scientists are claiming that teenagers get a similar psychological boost from free bus rides, which were introduced in 2005 to people under 17 and later to full-time students up to 18 years old. After talking with more than 100 London teens, they concluded that free rides had improved their "social lives and independence," bettered their "confidence" and helped them feel "more like a Londoner," according to the new study, published in the journal Mobilities under a title as long as a typical London bus. ("'We can all just get on a bus and go': Rethinking independent mobility in the context of the universal provision of free bus travel to young Londoners.")

The research includes some interesting stuff, especially if you think you understand teenagers. The bus seems to be a way that the sprightly Oyster-card carriers maintain their group cohesion, for instance. More about that from the official release:

Travelling together was reported to be a key feature for young people. Researchers discovered that a 'code of honour' for bus travel has developed: travelling as a group is seen as a sign of loyalty and getting on a bus without friends or leaving them on the bus alone seen as a betrayal. While many adult travellers use a range of strategies to avoid others in shared space, young Londoners are embracing free bus travel as a site of sociability.

The researchers, who hail from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University College London, also found that teens feel more independent because they don't have to ask their parents for fare money. Read all about it in the full study.

Top photo courtesy of Bikeworldtravel on Shutterstock.

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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