Cost of travel for early morning Belfast bus commuters set to surge

Workers in 15 towns and cities face 33-75% hike in daily cost of bus travel to Belfast as Translink axe ‘early bird' scheme

Passengers board a Translink Goldliner bus at Belfast's Europa bus station. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE cost of travelling to Belfast by bus for many morning commuters is set to surge well beyond the rate of inflation after Translink confirmed it will scrap its ‘early bird’ discount scheme from Monday.

The initiative offers significant savings on the cost of return journeys from 15 towns and cities before 7am, including Derry, Omagh, Enniskillen, Newry, Armagh and Coleraine.

Available on a limited number of morning bus slots, Translink said the scheme will be dumped in tandem with a 7 per cent fare hike across its network from March 6.

In real terms, the loss of the scheme will see prices rise well above the rate of inflation.

The price of an early morning bus from Derry on the 212 service will increase by 90 per cent from £11 under the ‘early bird’ scheme to £21 for a standard cash return journey on the same day.

Commuters from the Omagh area will see the discounted rate of £13 for a return on the same day rise by 50 per cent to around £20.

Translink said the revision of its fares follow the written statement by the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris in November, when he said that steps would need to be taken to improve Translink’s sustainability through the uprating of public transport fares.

“Fares have been frozen for four years; however, we understand any increase is unwelcome given the cost-of-living pressures our passengers are already facing,” said a Translink spokesperson.

“We have worked very hard to keep fares affordable and good value for as many people as possible.

"Given there is no longer a significant differential between peak and off-peak travel post covid, this has included adjusting some of the promotional discounts to reflect these changing travel patterns.”

Translink said the cheapest option for many bus commuters travelling to Belfast after March 6 can be accessed via its iLink card, which offers unlimited travel across the bus and train network for £17.50 per day.

The cards, which can be ordered online or bought at bus stations, can be topped up at pay points or with drivers.

But even with the iLink discount, the loss of the ‘early bird’ scheme will see morning commuters face substantial increases in the cost of travel of between 33 per cent and 75 per cent.

The official rate of inflation in the UK stood at 10.1 per cent in January.

While workers will lose their early morning discount, Translink said it will increase the discount available for students (aged 16-23) via its yLink card to 50 per cent – up from 33 per cent.

“We are confident that public transport is still an attractive and competitive option, compared to private motoring particularly given the cost of fuel,” said Translink’s spokesperson.

“It is also the heathier, smarter and cleaner travel choice for a better-connected society.”


Full list of Translink price increases which come into effect from March 6 2023:

  • Cash Singles will increase by between 20p and £1.00 
  • Multi-Journey Smartlink will increase by between 20p and 80p 
  • Early Bird fares will no longer be available 
  • yLink 50% off travel (conditions apply) 
  • Ulsterbus Town Services – Smartlink Day travel £2.30 
  • Town Service Paper Day Ticket £3.00 
  • Town Service Weekly / Monthly Smartlink
    • Weekly smartlink £10.50
    • Monthly smartlink £42.00 
  • Day returns 1/3 off after 9.30am (promotional fare) now 25% off
  • Sunday Bus Rambler ticket £10.00 
  • Family & Friends ticket £23.00 
  • Smartlink cards £1 (unchanged). Purchase online £1
  • Smartlink 10, 20, 30 & 40 journeys available

For more information, visit Translink's website.