Everybody Will Grow Old

Laws and social norms and effective attitude regarding how senior citizens are treated on buses and trains in Vietnam’s major cities

An old woman clutches at her bags and struggles to get on a bus. As soon as she finds a seat, thanks to help from the kind bus attendant, she fumbles her pockets for a few crumpled bank notes to pay her fares. However, the bus attendant tells her to keep the money. After a moment of surprise, the old woman slips the notes into her pocket, not forgetting to shower the bus attendant with words of gratitude.

It is worth noting that anyone will grow old sooner or later

Perhaps most of the passengers on that bus will be pleased with the attendant’s decision, whether or not it is really allowed under the public transport company’s regulations. Statistics show that people aged 60 and above as a share of Vietnam’s population have crossed the 10% threshold since 2011. If this trend continues, Vietnam will have more old people than children under 15 years of age by 2034. It is therefore worth pondering how to help senior citizens in Vietnam age gracefully.

In late 2011, the Minister of Transport signed a circular on support for senior citizens, especially with respect transport fares. It is puzzling why the circular delves deep into support for elderly passengers traveling by air, ranging from preferential treatment at check-in counters to help from the crew, even though airways account for only a limited share of transport demand. Another concern pertains to the lack of concrete figures regarding the extent of fare reductions, which, according to the circular, will be entirely at the discretion of transport companies.

The Senior Citizen Law was promulgated in November 2009, but it was only in January 2011 that the Government issued a decree guiding the implementation of this law. On December 30, 2011, the Ministry of Transport released the above circular, which was to take effect 45 days later. This amounts to an implementation lag of two years, which is admittedly not really long by Vietnam’s law enforcement standards. Of course, not all is well, and those hoping for the law to be efficiently translated into reality will still need to wait for some time.

Even then, certain things can be done to make bus trips more comfortable to senior citizens. At present, many seats designated for senior citizens, disabled people and pregnant women are still occupied by passengers not falling under any of these three categories. This runs counter to the Ministry of Transport’s circular, which requires passengers and bus attendants to join forces to provide the best travel experience to senior citizens. Perhaps bus companies should clearly convey this message to bus attendants. Ticket inspectors can also play a part in ensuring that bus attendants and passengers adhere to the circular.

Finally, everybody should bear in mind that anybody will grow old.