The Northern Ireland Telecom Branch of the Communication Workers Union Oppose any changes to Free Public Transport for Older People.
The Department for Infrastructure (DFI) have recently launched a ‘Consultation’ into the Concessionary Scheme (65+ Smartpass) for older people. The DFI website says “Changes are being considered including raising the age of eligibility for concessionary fares to either 65 or state pension age”.
The Communication Workers Union, Northern Ireland Telecom Branch (CWU NITB) write to express their total opposition to the proposals which would deny, or at least reduce, access for older people to free public transport as currently available.
We would also question the legality of the “consultation” in the absence of political structures. Does this consultation meet the required Statutory Regulations?
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act.
In complying with the Act, the DFI must do so by adhering to the arrangements contained in its equality scheme, fully taking into consideration detrimental effects to those groups of people who currently avail of those services. For example: older people, people with disabilities and people with dependants.
Any and all decisions should be supported by the relevant data which clearly demonstrate that all possible steps have been taken to avoid or reduce the adverse effects those decisions would have on those people most at risk across our society.
The CWU NITB do not believe that any such data has been produced. Indeed, there has been no real dialogue on the reasons why the consultation is necessary, and we would suggest the scheme is ill thought out and unnecessary.
Make no mistake; any proposed change to the existing Concessionary Over 65s Smartpass is the first step to a complete privatisation of NI ‘Translink’.
It is also a fact that the privatisation of buses and the railway network across the rest of the UK has been an unmitigated disaster both for passengers, workers and the transport network in general!
The Smartpass is a lifeline for thousands of older people and plays an important role in keeping people active, in touch, promotes independence and is a key factor in reducing loneliness and isolation. To even consider this at a time when older people especially are struggling to make ends meet is ludicrous and cannot be justified!
At a time when great strides are being made to reduce pollution, electric cars being widely promoted as the future for transportation, reducing road congestion, and a safer transport infrastructure, surely any scheme which will lead to less use of public transport is heading in the wrong direction?
The Consultation period is short, and that alone should be cause for alarm, what or how can we influence any proposals, will there be an appeal process? At the very least we need to know the arrangements that are in place for monitoring and publishing the potential impacts of the policy.
Closing Date for submissions is 24th August’23.
At the end of the day this has to be viewed for what it is, another cost cutting exercise, and it is totally unacceptable that those who will suffer most are our older, disabled and vulnerable citizens.
THE CWU Northern Ireland Telecom Branch welcome the outcry of opposition which has greeted the publication of this ill thought out “Consultation” and calls on all political parties to get behind this opposition.
Our older people have certainly earned the right to have free public transport travel, something that will impact on us all one day. Indeed, we should be looking at providing free public transport for all, as is the case in a growing number of countries across the European Union.
For the Department of Infrastructure to even think of attacking this scheme in the middle of a Cost-of-Living crisis is nothing less than shameful, let us all remember there are over half a million pensioners already living below the poverty line.
The CWU NITB believe that any changes to the ‘Smartpass’ will ultimately cost Northern Ireland society much more in the long term. Help protect our senior citizens, protect free public transport travel in NI.
We strongly Oppose any changes to the Northern Ireland Concessionary Fares Scheme.
Communication Workers Union – Northern Ireland Telecom Branch