Derry and Strabane councillors call for fare-free public transport

Derry City and Strabane District Council has called for all public transport within the district to be provided free.

Shaun Harkin
Shaun Harkin

It is estimated there are 50,000 economically inactive people or unemployed people aged 16 and above (2018 Labour Force Survey) in the Derry City and Strabane council area.

In a notice of motion brought before full council, Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher called for the introduction of fare-free public transport within the council area to help people to move freely around the district to work, seek healthcare, seek employment and socialise.

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Addressing the Chamber Councillor Gallagher said: “Fare-free public transport will greatly reduce the high cost of living immediately, benefits low-income families, mitigates against economic inactivity, reduces road congestion and is good for the environment by reducing carbon emissions. 

“Public transport free at the point of entry, lifts the hard border that economic inactivity creates at these people’s front doors, allowing people to move freely around the district to work, seek healthcare, seek employment and socialise.”

Councillor Gallagher called on council to write to the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon  to introduce such a proposal.

He added: “This motion is about disparity in wages, about the working poor, it’s about access to jobs and the low wage economy that we face in the North West.

“This is about access to health. We have seen very recently around PCR testing, that people in Strabane couldn’t get access to them and had to travel and couldn’t travel. 

“I call on the members in this Chamber to move this motion and for this to become the corporate position of this council.”

Councillor Raymond Barr agreed that ‘anything that eases the financial burden on our council residents is to be welcomed’.

He added: “This motion has multiple benefits, economically, socially and environmentally and adopting this motion will show that this council is proactive in its commitment to the district and its social and environmental needs.”

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Agreeing to support the motion, SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said: “I know the proposer is indicating that it needs to be about providing fares that are free. It’s worth pointing out that the Minister herself has already announced her intention to extend free travel across Northern Ireland for people with disabilities, for people who pay half fare and to widen the range of services facilitating concessionary travel by extending that scheme to new operators and obviously that would require additional financial responsibility from the Finance Minister.”

Commending Councillor Gallagher for bringing forward the proposal, PBP Councillor Shaun Harkin said: “This is the kind of radical action we need to take to address inequality, climate crisis and the lack of access so many people in our district suffer from.

“This is the kind of action that would make a real difference to people’s lives. Making public transport free for people right across the district would alleviate a lot of financial burden on people and it would reduce road congestion, it would help address climate change, these are the things we need to be doing.”

Councillors from all parties offered their support for the motion with Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson describing it as ‘achievable and it’s something that needs to be done’.

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DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney agreed with the sentiments of all the previous speakers whilst Councillor Phillip McKinney pointed out there are many cities in Europe which offer free transport. 

Bringing the debate to a close, Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly called it a ‘top class motion’ which ‘does what it says on the tin’. 

The motion passed unanimously.