Free travel and pensioners

 

Sir, – The secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt has asked for a debate on how public transport is “priced” and “used”. We think this is very sensible as long as the debate is fully informed by the facts.

In 2016, for the BT Young Scientist competition, we surveyed 892 people over the age of 66 years from 14 counties to try to understand the meaning of the free travel scheme to them and the effect it has on their lives and wellbeing.

Some 76.3 per cent use free travel at least once per month. People who live alone use it more often than those who do not. Some 17 per cent are solely reliant on free travel and use it more for health appointments and personal business, such as post office and banking, than people with access to other transport. Some 60 per cent stated that no change to the scheme was acceptable, 22 per cent would pay a small fare (€1 to €5) and 12 per cent would accept only travelling off-peak.

The knowledge we gained, however, was not in the statistics, but the stories older people wrote on the survey. They described free travel as a “lifeline”, preventing isolation and helping recovery from death of a spouse; how it made their basic pension go further; how it gave them independence from children and neighbours when going to health appointments; how it gave them “peace of mind” when transitioning from driving; how it made them exert themselves – walking to the bus or at their destination.

“Independence”, “freedom”, “life-enhancing”, “escape from loneliness”, “connection to family”, “an important social place”, “new opportunities” – the list went on.

We will gladly give Mr Watt our book of stories and comments (with the support of Age Action and the Active Retirement Association, which helped us) so that when free travel for the older people is being “priced”, the true “value” of getting out and about will be recognised. – Yours, etc,

MAEVE McMAHON

JULIE RYAN,

Leaving Certificate

Students,

Our Lady’s Bower

Secondary School,

Athlone,

Co Westmeath.