SEOUL, South Korea's six largest cities are planning to ask the central government to cover losses incurred by free subway riders, officials said Tuesday.

Subway-related officials from Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju and Daejeon met last Friday to discuss ways to make up for rising losses stemming from legal free rides for seniors 65 and older, and disabled and meritorious people.

Mounting losses incurred from legal free subway rides are imposing increasingly heavy burdens on the governments of the six major cities, the officials said

Legal free subway rides were first introduced for the elderly in May 1984 during the presidency of Chun Doo-hwan and expanded later to include the disabled and meritorious people.

The number of free-riding passengers increased by an annual average of 2.9 percent between 2013 and 2017.

In 2017, 440 million people, or 17.5 percent of the total, rode subways in the six cities free of charge, resulting in 592.5 billion won (US$530 million) in lost fares. The lost income accounted for 57 percent of the combined deficits of 1.04 trillion won for the seven subway operators in the six cities.

The municipalities insist that they are having difficulties in the safety management of subways due to worsening financial problems linked to free riders.

They say it's logical for the central government to pay for the free rides because the system was introduced by the presidential order or national laws.

But the central government is reportedly reluctant to heed the requests for financial support, saying local governments are basically responsible for shouldering losses from free subway rides.

A revision of the Urban Railroad Act mandating the central government make up for losses incurred by legal free rides has been pending in the National Assembly since March 2017.

An official at the Seoul Metropolitan Government said the six major cities will make concerted efforts for the parliamentary passage of the revision before 2020.

Source: Yonhap news Agency