CTA responds to the Consultation on Northern Ireland’s Concessionary Fares Scheme
by Noeleen Lynch
Director for Northern Ireland
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) is currently reviewing the Concessionary Fares Scheme, which provides free or discounted travel on public transport for older people and people with disabilities in Northern Ireland. The Scheme is funded by the Department and delivered by Translink, the main public transport operator in Northern Ireland. Through the Assisted Rural Transport Fund, SmartPasses can also be used on Rural Community Transport Partnerships Dial-a-lift journeys.
The Scheme currently offers free travel for those aged 60 and over, those who are registered blind and war-disabled pensioners. It also offers half-fare travel for those who have a learning disability, those who are partially sighted, those who receive certain benefits and those who have had a driving license revoked on medical grounds.
The Department had launched a public consultation to seek views on the future of the Scheme, the consultation document sets out four options for the future of the Scheme:
Option 1: Retain the Scheme in its current form
Option 2: Introduce an administration fee for SmartPasses
Option 3: Limit the use of SmartPasses to off-peak times
Option 4: Increase the eligibility age for free travel
In August 2023, CTA submitted our response to the consultation.
Strongly supports the retention of the Scheme in its current form. We believe that the Scheme is a vital lifeline for many older people and people with disabilities, who rely on public transport and community transport to access essential services, social activities, and opportunities for participation and inclusion. We also recognise that the Scheme has wider benefits for society and the environment, such as reducing congestion, pollution, and car dependency, and supporting active travel and healthy ageing.
Believes that proposals outlined in Option 2, 3 and 4 would have direct implications on Dial-A-Lift passengers who use their SmartPasses to live their day-to-day lives. Dial-A-Lift is a door-to-door transport service provided by community transport operators for those who are unable to access mainstream public transport due to mobility issues or lack of services. Dial-A-Lift passengers can use their SmartPasses to pay for their journeys. We are concerned that introducing an administration fee, limiting the use of SmartPasses to off-peak times, or increasing the eligibility age for free travel would make transport less affordable and accessible for many Dial-A-Lift passengers, who are among the most vulnerable and isolated groups in society.
Raises concerns that cutting access to free and affordable transport will worsen poverty, increase social exclusion, and have a negative impact on many people’s physical and mental health, as well as an impact on the local economy. We highlight the evidence that shows that transport poverty is a significant issue in Northern Ireland, especially in rural areas, where public transport provision is We also point out the potential negative consequences of reducing access to transport for individuals and communities, such as increased loneliness, isolation, depression, anxiety, poor physical health, reduced independence, lower quality of life, lower educational attainment, lower employment opportunities, lower income levels, and lower spending power.
Calls for recognition that community transport is a ‘leveller up’ of regional disparities which delivers a more equitable service where public transport fails to do so. We emphasised the vital role that community transport plays in providing accessible, affordable, and inclusive transport for those who are unable to use mainstream public transport due to disability, age, location, or other barriers. We also stress that community transport is more than just a transport service; it is a social service that connects people with their communities, reduces isolation and loneliness, improves health and wellbeing, enhances social capital and cohesion, and supports local economic development.
Urges the Department to consider how changes to the Scheme may impact those who use their Smartpass on dial-a-lift (DAL) journeys.We ask the Department to conduct a thorough analysis of the current usage patterns and needs of Dial-A-Lift passengers who use their SmartPasses, and to assess how any changes to the Scheme would affect their ability to access transport and participate in society. We also request that the Department engages with community transport operators and their passengers to understand their views and experiences of using the Scheme.
Argues for an EQIA to be completed on the impact of these proposals on those who use their SmartPasses on community transport DAL journeys. We note that the Department has not carried out an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) on the proposals in the consultation document. We believe that an EQIA is necessary, as any changes to the Scheme could have a disproportionate and adverse impact on those who use their SmartPasses on DAL journeys, who are predominantly older people and people with disabilities. We urge the Department to conduct an EQIA, and to ensure that it covers the impact of the proposals on DAL passengers, as well as other equality groups.
Requests a clarification regarding if proposed free travel for those with disabilities extends beyond public transport, to those with disabilities who use their SmartPass on DAL journeys. We welcome the Department’s proposal to extend free travel to all those with disabilities, as a positive step towards improving access and inclusion for this group. However, we seek clarification on whether this proposal would also apply to those with disabilities who use their SmartPass on DAL journeys, and whether they would be able to access free transport on both public transport and community transport services.
Joins the call to use this review as an opportunity to reimagine how the Scheme works to remove inequalities which currently exist within the Scheme. We echo the views of other stakeholders, such as Age NI and Disability Action, who have called for a more holistic and strategic approach to reviewing the Scheme, rather than focusing on cost-cutting measures. We suggest that the Department should use this review as an opportunity to rethink how the Scheme can better meet the needs and aspirations of older people and people with disabilities, and how it can support the delivery of the Programme for Government outcomes, such as improving wellbeing, tackling disadvantage, enhancing connectivity, and promoting sustainability.
We hope that our response will inform the Department’s decision-making process and ensure that the Scheme continues to provide free and affordable transport for those who need it most. We also hope that our response will raise awareness of the value and importance of community transport in Northern Ireland, and the challenges and opportunities that it faces in the future.
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