Northern Ireland

Council urges Department for Infrastructure to keep free travel for over-60s

A consultation is underway on proposed changes to Translink's SmartPass travel system.
A consultation is underway on proposed changes to Translink's SmartPass travel system.

ANOTHER of the north's councils has called for Translink to scrap proposals to raise the eligibility age for free public transport.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has said free and discounted fares on public transport “should be retained”.

The local authority was responding to a Department for Infrastructure (DfI) consultation on the future of free and concessionary fares in Northern Ireland.

The consultation is looking into the possibility of raising the age of eligibility for Translink's SmartPass system from 60 to 65 or the state retirement age, which will eventually rise to 67 in the years ahead.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said in its consultation response: “Our council area and Northern Ireland has an ageing population. Council urges the Department to take this fact and opportunity into account when making decisions about access to the Concessionary Fares Scheme.

“There has been a major impact on older people from Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis. To fully redress the impact of Covid-19 requires action responsive to the needs of older people.

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Belfast City Council submits objections to scrapping of free travel for over-60s

SmartPass scheme must be defended

“The SmartPass is valued by them for many reasons. It has enabled them to return to activities and contribute to their local community. Older people use it to access the services they need to stay well and remain as independent as possible. An effective affordable transport system is key to creating and promoting age-friendly communities and societies for people and families of all ages.

“Accessible and affordable transport is at the core of any service delivery programme and it is particularly important for potentially vulnerable groups and communities."

The response added: “None of the proposed options within the consultation should be implemented."

Belfast City Council has also urged the DfI not to change the SmartPass system, warning such a move would "threaten community links for local people".

In its consultation, the department said it "recognises the importance of free and discounted travel in the everyday lives of older and disabled people".

It has said the proposed changes are due to costs of the travel scheme being "significantly higher than they were in 2007/08, when last amended to introduce free travel for all 60–64-year-olds and are anticipated to rise in the future".

The Department estimates the cost will rise to £44.6m in 2023/24 and could rise to £52.1m by 2030.