IN June of this year the Department for Infrastructure issued a ‘Consultation on changes to the Concessionary Fares Scheme’ – or in plainer terms, the future of free travel.
Some its key proposals include:
- changing the qualifying age for a Smart Pass from 60 to the current pension age of 66
- restricting the time a Smart Pass can be used to after 9.30 in the morning
- cancelling the use of a Smart Pass on trains – making it bus only
- charging a fee for a Smart Pass
Anywhere else these types of proposals would have been met with a roar of condemnation and a justified outburst of righteous indignation. Not here though. But it is not just a disillusioned public that has not raised its voice. The absence of comment or concern from the main political parties has been staggering.
It’s easy to speculate on why that may be the case, but one thing is certain. If there is no outcry over withdrawing or restricting the right to free travel for the over 60’s and for people with a disability, then when it comes to charging for prescriptions, installing water meters, raising university fees and privatising household waste collections, then the precedent will have already been set.
Public transport should be viewed in the same light as water, health, energy, education and other public utilities. It should be provided, developed and utilised for the public good.
The consultation paper is available on the Department for Infrastructure’s website.
I would urge as many people and organisations as possible to make their views known before the closing date, and to support meetings and protests being held against restrictions on free travel.
Do you have something to say on this issue? If so, submit a letter for publication to Conor McParland at email@example.com or write to Editor Anthony Neeson at Andersonstown News/North Belfast News, Teach Basil, 2 Hannahstown Hill, Belfast BT17 0LT