Northern Ireland

Free travel a 'lifeline' for older people, Commissioner warns as consultation on raising eligibility age launched

The current age of eligibility for a senior SmartPass for free travel in the north is 60.
The current age of eligibility for a senior SmartPass for free travel in the north is 60. The current age of eligibility for a senior SmartPass for free travel in the north is 60.

Raising the age at which free public transport in the north becomes available could have an adverse effect on the health of older people, it has been warned.

A 12-week public consultation has been launched by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) on raising the age people qualify for a free travel SmartPass from 60 to either 65 or 66 - the current state pension age.

The department, which is facing budgetary pressures, has said the costs of the scheme - £39 million for 2022/23 - is expected to rise to more than £52m by 2030.

Raising the age to at least 65, which would be the first age change to the scheme since 2008 -  would bring the north into line with the Republic and England.

The department is also consulting on including full free travel for disabled people who currently only qualify for a half-fare pass, and a companion pass for eligible disabled people unable to travel alone. 

A DfI spokesperson said: "Our priority is to ensure that it is affordable and at the same time, targeted at those who need it most.”

However, the north's Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, has warned the SmartPass is a "lifeline" for thousands of people aged 60-64.

"Without it, I fear that many older people’s mobility and health and well-being will be adversely affected, at a time when they are not only struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, but perhaps also just recently re-integrating back into society following the pandemic," Mr Lynch said.