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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kenwood (Local Democracy Reporter)

Objections to Stormont proposal to abolish concessionary fares on public transport for over 60’s

Woman travelling in public transport bus

Belfast Council has announced it will be objecting to a Stormont proposal to abolish concessionary fares on public transport for over 60’s.


Belfast City Council has sent a response submission to the Department for Infrastructures on its consultation on changes to the Northern Ireland concessionary fares scheme.



The Stormont department consultation gave respondents ten options to support or object to, including raising the age eligibility. This would be by either raising the age of eligibility for the SmartPass to 65, or by removing the concession from the 60-64 age group and raising the age of eligibility to state pension age.


The state pension age for men and women is currently 66 and will increase to 67 between 2026 and 2028.


Belfast Council is advising Stormont to make no changes to the current system which allows concessions for over 60’s, but did state it might support means testing for the age group.



In a report on the consultation, the council states:


“Public transport enables older people to connect with social networks, and promotes social inclusion, by attending groups, activities, and programmes on offer across the city, if they couldn’t access these there would be a sharp increase in levels of loneliness, social isolation and an impact on mental health issues.


“Since coronavirus much has been done to encourage older people to reconnect to groups/ programmes across the city and having their SmartPass has made this process easier.



“For those older people that do have access to a car, they have said how the parking in the city centre has increased in price and as a result with other increases in cost of living, many are now unable to afford to park or pay for petrol.


“Since Covid some older people have reported being less confident to drive and as a result are heavily dependent on public transport to move across the city.


“As well as connecting to groups and activities the SmartPass has meant that older people using public transport can have improved access to city centre shops, services and other facilities and therefore contributing to the wider economy.


“It can improve health by promoting a more active lifestyle for the elderly and disabled. It promotes a modal shift from private cars to public transport.



“Should the Department remove and raise the eligibility age in relation to the SmartPass, this would threaten community links for local people and may mean the most vulnerable people in our local communities lose access to vital services and programmes which support their mental and physical wellbeing.”


It adds: "However, we would contend that in terms of financial sustainability consideration could be given to means testing those between the age of 60-64 who are in full time employment.”


The council also objected to other options such as limiting the older person smart pass to bus travel only, to off-peak travel only, and to placing application, renewal and replacement fees on the smart pass.



The council did mark its support for other options in the consultation, namely free travel for those currently receiving a half fare concession due to a qualifying disability, companion passes for disabled people unable to travel alone, and to extend the qualifying criteria for a Half Fare SmartPass in line with other jurisdictions.


The council also approved of other options proposed in the consultation such as offering free transport for destitute asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking, and making changes to the residence test, extending the list of documents to prove residency in Northern Ireland, and removing the need for applicants to be permanently resident in Northern Ireland for a period of three months.

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