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Bus passes: New application fee for over-60s travel cards

Bus passes: New application fee for over-60s travel cards

Application fees are to be introduced for people aged over 60 when they apply for a Translink Smartpass for the first time, a Stormont minister has said.

Over-60s are entitled to travel on public buses and trains for free in Northern Ireland, regardless of their income, and this system will continue.

But Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd has announced that a “nominal fee” will soon be charged to passengers making a first-time application for a Smartpass.

The one-off fee is expected to be about £20 for people aged 60-64.

A reduced application fee of about £12 will be charged to older passengers aged 65 and over as they qualify for a “Senior Smartpass, the Department for Infrastructure said.

While a Smartpass can only be used in Northern Ireland, a Senior Smartpass gives over-65s access to free public transport throughout the island of Ireland.

Mr O’Dowd said he was bringing in application fees in order to “protect concessionary fares” in a difficult budgetary situation.

It is expected that the new charges will come into force in the autumn.

The department has confirmed that application fees “will not apply to disability-related SmartPasses”.

The announcement comes after a public consultation last summer, which asked if Translink’s concessionary travel rules should be changed, curtailed or extended.

Among the questions posed was whether or not the age passengers qualify for free transport should be raised to 65, or the current state-pension age of 66.

Protests were held at the time against any suggestion that people over 60 would lose access to free bus and train tickets.

Announcing the new application fee, Mr O’Dowd said his department had to take “difficult decisions” after receiving its budget allocation.

“Years of underfunding and austerity by the British government mean these are challenging times for all departments, and Infrastructure is no different,” he added.

He said he was “committed to prioritising essential front-line services” and he cited the continuation of concessionary travel passes first on his list of protected spends

In addition to maintaining concessionary fares for people over 60, Mr O’Dowd said he was ringfencing funding for a number of infrastructure projects.

These include £4.7m for improvements to the Coleraine-Derry rail; investment in the A1, A4, and A5 roads; the Cookstown bypass and Newry’s Southern Relief Road.

The Department of Infrastructure said it had been allocated a resource budget allocation for 2024-25 of just under £560m, with a capital allocation of £820m.

From that budget, Translink will get £245.8m which includes £80m ring-fenced for the Belfast Transport Hub.

The bus and rail centre, which will be known as Belfast Grand Central Station, is due to open later this year.

Northern Ireland Water is to receive £137.7m in resource funding and £323.6m capital funding.

Commenting on those allocations, Mr O’Dowd said: “None of us are getting the funding we would have liked”.

But he added that “we must all prioritise essential services along with health and safety, while maximising service delivery within the resources available”.

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