The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, said that proposals in the Department for Infrastructure's Concessionary Fares Scheme consultation, which was launched today, are a short-sighted, backwards step and should be protected.

The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch said:

“I am hugely concerned about the impact these proposed changes will have on older people across Northern Ireland, who rely on the SmartPass as an essential means of transport.

“The SmartPass is a lifeline for thousands of older people in the 60-64 age bracket and plays an important role in keeping people active, promoting independence and reducing loneliness and isolation. Without it, I fear that many older people’s mobility and health and well-being will be adversely affected, at a time when they are not only struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, but perhaps also just recently re-integrating back into society following the pandemic.

“People in the 60-64 age bracket are also, in many cases, on reduced income and in need of state support and cannot afford the added expenditure. They may also have increased long term health conditions, requiring treatment and need access to social supports.

Stripping them of an essential means of transport to attend GP appointments, hospital appointments, attend day activities, visiting friends & family, post office / banking services and links to the public transport network not only negatively impacts on their mental health but takes away their independence causing them to rely more heavily on friends and family.

“Northern Ireland has a better scheme than other parts of the UK, which is something we should be proud of. The fact that we have a much better system in Northern Ireland than other jurisdictions is not a reason to reduce our standards and expectations, but rather something we should seek to protect. Any proposal to reduce access to free travel for older people would be a short-sighted backward step that would end up costing society much more than it would save.”

The consultation will close at 5pm on 24 August. You can complete the consultation response and ensure your views are heard here