Translink rakes in £172m in fares - but half have a free ticket to ride
NEARLY half of all bus passengers in Northern Ireland rode free last year, new figures show.
Of the 60.6 million people using Translink's Ulsterbus, Goldliner or Metro/Glider services in the 12 months to March , just 31.2 million paid a full fare, bringing in receipts of £84 million for the operators.
So that left 29.4 million people using some sort of free/subsidised travel card such as the 60+ Smart Pass.
But it was a different story on the railways though, where of 12.9 million people taking the train, some 10.1m paid full fare and just 2.8m travelled free.
The figures are contained in a report from the Department for Infrastructure which presents statistics on public transport operated by Translink in Northern Ireland and collates information on journeys, vehicles and staff.
And they come in the wake of the department consulting on proposed changes to Translink's SmartPass system that could see the age of eligibility raised from 60 to 65 or even 67, or could be means-tested.
Other options set out in the consultation - which has now closed - suggest changing the time free passes can be used, such as after 9.30am to free up space in crowded rush hour periods.
The proposed changes have already sparked protests across the north, with opponents arguing that public transport enables older people to connect with social networks, and promotes social inclusion by attending groups, activities, and programmes.
The fear is that is older people could not have access to free travel, there would be a sharp increase in levels of loneliness, social isolation and an impact on mental health issues.
Yet despite the numbers using free services, Translink raked in £172 million in fares over the year, made up of £84.1m on buses, £49.5m on railways and £38.4 on the Metro/Glider services.
The report shows that the total journeys across all forms of public transport in the north in 2022/23, at 73.5 million, is up in double digit percentage terms from the previous two years, but still short of the pre-Covid figure of 83.4 million.
Translink has one of the youngest fleets in the UK.
At the end of March 2023, there were 1,058 Ulsterbuses, 281 Metro buses and 34 Gliders in operation which were, on average, 8.9 years, 6.3 years and 4.5 years old respectively.
There were 164 rail carriages in operation over the year, with an average age of 17 years.
That overall fleet covered 41.6 millions last year, led by buses (29.6 million), then Metro/Glider (8.2 million) and then rail (3.8 million).
The average number of staff employed by Translink in 2022-23 was 4,165, according to the report (3,074 work on the buses and 1,091 on the railways).