ELDERLY Ulsterbus users in Fermanagh may be in for a shock, with the news that the age for free Translink public transport could be raised.
Currently, anyone aged 60 or over can get free transport anywhere in the North but this is now being reviewed.
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has launched a 12-week public consultation on changes to the Concessionary Fares Scheme to discuss whether it should stay at 60 or be raised to 65 or the current state-pension age of 66.
It involves the free travel SmartPass, which has not changed since 2008.
Views will also be sought on extending eligibility for free travel to disabled people who only qualify for half-price fares at the moment.
The cost of the Concessionary Fares Scheme has continued to rise significantly since 2010/11 for several reasons including increased fares and an increase in the eligible population entitled to the age-related concession.
In 2022/23 the Scheme cost £39m and the DfI estimates the cost of the Scheme will rise to £44.6m in 2023/24 – due to continued passenger number recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic and fare increases. Estimations indicate the cost could further rise to more than £52m by 2030.
A DfI spokesperson said they recognised the importance of the Scheme and the benefits it brings to those who use the SmartPass to travel on public transport, but costs were increasingly a worry.
“The cost of the Scheme has increased significantly and we anticipate it will continue to rise,” a DfI spokesperson said.
“With that in mind we are looking at all options to ensure the scheme will continue to promote social inclusion, without impacting the delivery of public transport services or other services the department provides.
“No decisions have been made yet. We are keen to hear from the public, representative groups, and others on how the proposed changes might affect them.
“We also want to hear your view on how the scheme might operate in the future. Our priority is to ensure that it is affordable and at the same time, targeted at those who need it most.”
Other proposed options include: limiting SmartPass use to off-peak travel, bus-only free travel, the introduction of application, renewal and replacement fees, and companion passes for disabled people unable to travel alone.
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