Pensioners form undercover safety patrols on buses to monitor buses

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The Independent Online

Pensioners are posing as "mystery passengers" on buses as part of a raft of initiatives to improve the safety and efficiency of public transport for older people.

Pensioners are posing as "mystery passengers" on buses as part of a raft of initiatives to improve the safety and efficiency of public transport for older people.

The scheme, in which 40 pensioners are spending hundreds of hours travelling on buses around London, will be announced today at a conference for older people in London. It is expected that similar projects will be implemented nationwide. Research has shown that improving public transport is the top priority for older people in Britain.

The projects are organised by Better Government for Older People (BGOP), a two-year programme supported by the Government and charities. It aims to improve life for older people through its 28 pilot projects across the UK.

A fleet of "kneeling" buses and a scheme for cheap taxis for pensioners are already being tested in Hartlepool.

"Public transport is a vital lifeline to the outside world for many older people, ensuring they remain active and independent in later years. That is why initiatives like these are so important," said Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney. "We are determined to make public services more accessible and convenient for older people."

Preliminary findings from the "mystery passenger" research show that old people find the quality of bus driving unsatisfactory. The pensioners completed questionnaires which rated cleanliness and lighting at bus stops, driving and politeness of drivers, comfort of seats and general ease of use.

The findings show that pensioners do not have enough time to sit down before buses move off and end up clinging on with both hands to avoid falling over. Older people also find getting on and off buses difficult when the vehicles park away from the kerb.

Roper Mead, 89, from west London, has spent the last few weeks being a "mystery passenger" on different London bus routes. "There are plenty of faults," he said. "Some bus journeys are very jerky. It's as if the drivers think they are whizzing around on roller-coasters in Blackpool. It is a real danger for people like me."

Mark Beauchamp, the BGOP project director at Kensington and Chelsea, said he was working closely with London Transport managers to address the concerns of older people. "Being able to travel on buses with ease and confidence is crucial to older people's independence and well-being," he said.

The BGOP conference will also look at improving health and social care services for older people and aims to spread the findings from different projects across the country.

BGOP programme director, Martin Shreeve, said: "Older people expect much more from life and the services they need. They want a bigger say in decisions that affect them and want opportunities to contribute to their community."

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