Free subways for seniors become a political headache in South Korea


SEOUL (Reuters) – Every day, 71-year-old Park Kyung-sun delivers flowers, documents and other parcels in downtown Seoul.

Park, a former market stall owner, earns up to 700,000 won ($550) a month from this job, known in South Korea as “silver delivery.” The company he works for is just one of his 20 in the capital.

“It’s fun and good for your health,” Park told Reuters. “But honestly, if the subway wasn’t free, there wouldn’t be much left to do.”

Free rides have been a national perk for people over 65 for 40 years, helping to keep seniors active. But with South Korea’s rapidly aging population and skyrocketing subway operating costs, they’re becoming thorny political issues.

There’s no talk of completely abolishing the perk, but some metro-operating cities have threatened to raise fares significantly or lift age eligibility unless the state covers part of the cost. The Ministry of Finance is adamantly opposed.

latest update

Show 2 more stories

The debate is part of a wider challenge in Asia’s fourth largest economy, where the cost of welfare for the elderly is surging, and how to raise the retirement age from 60 and ensure a sustainable national pension system. are in the midst of a debate about

President Yoon Suk-yeol is also confused. He promised fiscal consolidation when he took office in May, but he also sees older voters as an important support base.

Consumers are already frustrated by the highest inflation in 24 years. sharp increase in public utility charges economy last quarter first contraction Over 2 years.

Several members of his ruling People Power Party have warned that curtailing subway benefits for seniors won’t help their chances in next year’s parliamentary elections.

The free-riding problem only gets worse over time.

More than 18% of South Korea’s population of 51 million is over the age of 65. The proportion is projected to reach 30% in 2035 and 40% in 2050, according to the national statistics office.

With approximately 3.7 million people over the age of 65, the Seoul metropolitan area had more than 233 million free rides last year. As a result, Seoul Metro suffered a loss of approximately 315 billion won ($250 million), equivalent to 30% of its debt.

To address this, in December the city of Seoul announced plans to raise subway fares by up to 30% for the first time since 2015, while still offering free rides for seniors.

Mayor Oh Se-hoon said at a press conference last week that the planned fare increase could be minimized only if there is “at least some level of state support”, citing former military dictator in 2018. He mentioned the free ride policy imposed on the city by Chun Doo Hwan. Early 1980’s.

The Treasury Department is funding the construction and improvement of the subway system and says the city will have to cover its operating costs.

“In the case of Seoul, we are actually in a much stronger financial position than the state, and given that situation, I think it is a bit overkill to call on the state to take responsibility,” said Finance Minister Bang. . Ki-sun told Reuters.

Daegu, a metropolis in southeastern South Korea, recently announced that it would consider raising the minimum eligibility age in stages to 70. Another city, Daejeon, is considering a similar policy.

A Gallup poll released last week found that 60% of South Koreans support raising the minimum age for senior benefits, including free subway rides, to 70, while 34% opposed.

The health ministry will consider whether local governments have the right to change the minimum age eligibility level, Yoon’s office said in response to Reuters’ request for comment on the matter.

($1 = 1,282.8200 won)

Reported by Shin Hyun-hee, Kim Hye-young and Kim Dae-woon. Additional reporting by Choonsik Yoo. Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content