Retirees face losing their discounts

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Thousands of Norwegian seniors are starting to lose their traditional discounts on everything from cinema tickets to public transportation, or at least see them threatened. The vast majority are increasingly being viewed as relatively affluent instead of needy, and service providers think other segments of the population may be more deserving of reduced prices or fares.

Bus fares may increase for senior citizens in the Oslo area, if Ruter follows the local cinema operator in doing away with discounts for retirees. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartement/Olav Heggø/Fotovisjon

Bus fares may increase for senior citizens in the Oslo area, if Ruter follows the local cinema operator in doing away with discounts for retirees. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartement/Olav Heggø/Fotovisjon

Oslo Kino, which operates most cinemas in the Norwegian capital, recently went private after years of being owned by the city. Last month it quietly introduced what one cashier in Saga Cinema’s kiosk (where tickets are now sold along with drinks and snacks to cut costs) called “a new system” for ticket prices that varies from cinema to cinema, from day to day and by the time of the film’s showing. Gone are the former discounts for retirees and other seniors, called honnørrabatt.

The discounts for decades were meant to literally honour the efforts of elderly Norwegians after a long lifetime of work inside or outside the home. On Wednesday, newspaper Aftenposten reported that Oslo’s public transportation system that’s now called Ruter is also “evaluating” its discounts for seniors, which already have been adjusted in connection with a major route change last year.

Many Norwegian seniors are relatively affluent, living longer and active, like this group on a mountain hike with Norway's national trekking association DNT. PHOTO: Den Norske Turisforening/Marius Nergård Pettersen

Many Norwegian seniors are relatively affluent, living longer and active, like this group on a mountain hike with Norway’s national trekking association DNT. PHOTO: Den Norske Turisforening/Marius Nergård Pettersen

“We want to see who will be using public transport in the future,” Gro Tvedt Andersen, Ruter’s press contact, told Aftenposten. Older Norwegians collecting pension payments will make up a larger portion of the population, she notes, with the number of those aged 67 (the official retirement age in Norway) and above expected to increase by 60 percent by 2030, according to state statistics bureau SSB. Ruter wants traffic growth and is thus looking at trends among the older population, Andersen said.

Ruter has registered SSB’s prediction that a smaller portion of retirees will need to live on minimal pension income in the future. More seniors won’t actually retire, either, but are expected to keep working longer. Ruter may roll out new services for more affluent but physically frail senior passengers, such as special routes or taxi-type service that can be ordered.  “Analysis of trends shows that older Norwegians will have stronger personal economy,” Andersen told Aftenposten. “Then we must examine which portions of the population should have discounts.”

In Norway, which has experienced huge increase in real estate prices in recent years, many seniors are also debt-free and own assets of high value. While some asset-rich but cash-poor seniors have started borrowing against such value to finance travel or other services not provided by the public sector, many have a high net worth and much stronger household economy than young people facing high mortgage payments. According to a recent study conducted by SSB, Norwegians aged 65-69 had the highest average net worth of NOK 3.1 million (just over USD 500,000) in 2011, compared to NOK 1.8 million overall.

Any removal or re-evaluation of discounts for seniors, however, is bound to be controversial. Many still see the discounts as a reward of sorts, and note that pension income for the vast majority is at least 40 percent less than what they earned prior to retirement and likely to decline as a result of recent pension reform.

“Those of us who have worked deserve a discount,” said Dag Eliassen, among several people randomly questioned by Aftenposten on the issue. Eliassen, age 57, also noted that the next generation of retirees is likely to be much more demanding than those currently collecting pensions. “I’ll be intolerable,” Eliassen candidly predicted. “And I think we should get a discount at Vinmonopolet (the state wine and liquor monopoly).”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund