This option was being considered as part of the Department for Infrastructure’s consultation on changes to the concessionary fares on public transport, which closes today. The DUP has published its response.
Commenting, the North Belfast MLA said:
‘‘Free and discounted travel provides enormous benefits to society and our economy and it is entirely unacceptable that this is viewed as a soft target for short-term and short-sighted budget cuts.
Removing the cost of accessing public transport means more people use bus and rail services, reducing our reliance on cars and protecting the environment. It also enables older people, and those with disabilities, to commute to work, attend GP and hospital appointments, visit family or friends or simply do the shopping. For many, this is a lifeline not a luxury, as it allows them to retain independence for longer and stay involved in their local community.
The Department would be wrong to turn its back on these benefits. As the Party that introduced concessionary fares for senior citizens, we believe this policy strikes to the heart of what it means to promote a fair, compassionate and inclusive society - one where everyone is valued. For that reason we will continue to lobby for its retention.’’
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell was the Minister who introduced free travel for senior citizens (65+) in 2001. He added:
‘‘The case for rolling-back this Scheme simply does not stack up. Over 29 million public transport journeys were made by non-fare paying passengers in 2021-22. These costs are reimbursed by DfI on top of further significant subsidies from the public purse. Without this, a high proportion of Translink’s services would become unviable, including in rural and hard-to-reach areas.
Any abandonment of the scheme would therefore result in a massive decrease in journeys, reducing revenue and putting existential pressures on vital routes and Translink’s future viability. This is not to mention the knock-on impact for both our economy and health service from reduced footfall on our high streets and higher rates of social exclusion.
Concessionary travel is a devolved policy and any changes should ultimately be subject to the will of a future Executive and Assembly. We will not tolerate a situation where protections for some of the most marginalised in our society are used as cannon fodder to deflect from the Government’s failure to address the chronic underfunding of our public services.’’
Note to readers
- There were 27.1m bus passenger journeys and 2.0m rail passenger journeys by non-paying customers in 2021-2022. This covers free concessions (including 60+, 65+) and Education Authority journeys, which are subsidised by either DfI or the Education Authority.
Source: Public Transport Statistics Northern Ireland 2021-22 (DfI) (March 2023)
- In the 2022 calendar year, there were over 9m passenger journeys undertaken by 65+ and 60+ pass holders alone, representing 13.1% of all journeys.