Travel Concession Consultation…

David Jamison is from Belfast. He has recently retired and to use his own words, now with time on his hands to think and write about things he probably should have thought more about years ago.

Public Transport in all its various forms seems to be getting a lot of attention at the moment. The new Belfast Grand Central Station is proceeding a pace. Cycle routes have got a mention. Train routes and Connectivity to the NW. Then Bus Passes for older people, or more accurately the Concessionary Fare Scheme, is out for a consultation with the objective of “….considering how we can ensure the Scheme is financially sustainable and continues to be available for future generations.” I suggest though that this is code for reducing costs!

All the facts and figures are in docs at https://www.infrastructure-ni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-changes-concessionary-fares-scheme

So really this is a two part exercise – cost and social inclusion and it seems that the second part is hardly getting a mention with the first part being in the spotlight! Therefore, to highlight the options under the social inclusion part;

  • Free travel for those currently receiving a half fare concession due to a qualifying disability
  • Companion passes for disabled people unable to travel alone
  • Extend the qualifying criteria for a Half Fare SmartPass in line with other jurisdictions
  • Free transport for destitute asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking
  • Changes to the residence test
  • Proving residency This change would extend the list of documentation that can be used to prove residency.

Some of these seem to me simply to be tidying up conditions?

So setting the social inclusion bit aside, in fact Id wonder should this not be an entirely separate issue even to the extent of being funded separately?, The broader root of the cost issue I guess is how Public Transport should be funded and even this sets aside discussion of issues relation to service provision e.g. additional train routes existing destinations and timetables Gliders Urbys etc. So really lots to think about.

The options put forward for cost control (or call it whatever sustainability etc ) are

Raising Age Eligibility

Currently age 60 for NI Based travel and 65 for All Ireland.

The 60-64 pass is quoted as costing £9.3m or 19.6% of the total spend which sounded surprisingly low to me.

The issues I see here is that this age group now contains a number of people that would be retired or more accurately economically inactive in that they are not working but do not qualify for benefits of any sort and are running on say redundancy payments until pensions kick in. Many of these expected the state pension at 65 and have at least another unscheduled year to wait. This would be seen as another challenge to cost of living and standards.

I would wonder if this concession was removed how much of the £9.6m would be realised as in many cases the buses or trains would be running irrespective of what sort of ticket holder is on board.

It looks like Scotland and Wales uses Age 60 RoI 66 and England something of a mix but looks like largely 60 is effectively in use. (Page 15 of the consultation doc). Id suggest raising to the bar to 66 seems a soft target.

Limiting Smartpass travel to off peak only.

This seems to suggest limiting travel to after 9:30 Monday to Friday No figure is quoted for the saving achieved so I don’t see there being a persuasive argument for this? This seems to be a suggestion based on us being more generous than that supplied in England (only)

Limiting Smartpass use to Bus only travel.

So Buses not Trains. Again no costings attached so no persuasive argument? Again, this seems to be a suggestion based on us being more generous than that supplied in England (only)

Application, renewal and replacement fees.

Charge £5 or £10 to ease admin costs. Total admin is costed at 1.2% of total budget so 1.2% of £47.9m is £910k. Would need to factor in a sum to account for collecting the said charge!

So back to my original thought. How is Public Transport to be funded? Obviously a large proportion would have to come from Fares thus the debate around levels of fares and allied concessions. Next up would be Subsidies or concessions. Then I suppose where are we with the debate around the use of Private cars? Plainly people remain content to pay very large amounts of money for convenience and door-to-door service and I don’t think even yet we have reached a point where the private car is close to pricing itself out of the market – if it ever will.

I do accept that at the moment for many a car is deemed a necessity for a range of reasons accessibility no viable alternative due to timing or location etc.

I just wonder if we are putting the right amount of effort into the right part of the transport debate at this time? I would also wonder given the size of the savings is this really a target worth aiming at?

Finally I wonder what the views of the Political Parties are on this topic? I know I know we don’t have Stormont to approach to ask come to think of it then who called for the consultation to take place in the first instance!!!

 


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