Dáil Éireann - Volume 451 - 30 March, 1995
Written Answers. - Free Travel Scheme.
Dr. Upton Dr. Upton
74. Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social Welfare the plans, if any, he has to deal with the problem which exists in some rural areas where persons entitled to free travel cannot avail of it in view of the absence of a public transport service in those areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6673/95]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa) Proinsias De Rossa
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The free travel scheme operated by my Department is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over as well as certain incapacitated people in receipt of social welfare-type payments. The scheme provides free travel at off-peak periods for eligible people on the main public and private transport services. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by semi-State companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as services provided by some 42 private contractors. The vast majority of these private contractors operate in rural areas. It is, therefore, fair to say that, for all practical purposes, the free travel service is available throughout the country.
The scope of the free travel scheme has been expanded over the years both in relation to the number of routes covered and the concessions made available to people with disabilities, such as  the free travel companion pass. In addition, as announced in the budget, the scheme will be further extended later this year to include cross-Border journeys in both directions. Currently, about 462,000 people qualify for free travel at an annual cost of about £31 million.
The main purpose of the scheme is to encourage independence, mobility and social integration among elderly and incapacitated people. The scheme supports this in practice by reimbursing public and private transport services throughout the country, wherever they are available. There have been a number of recent additions of private operator services to the free travel service in locations where there were no services previously. My Department will continue to deal with further applications from private operator services as they arise. In this regard, I am satisfied that the free travel scheme has played a part in ensuring the continuance of transport services in parts of the country where they might not otherwise be available. I should, however, mention that the ongoing development of transport services is primarily a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications.
Dáil Éireann 451 Written Answers. Free Travel Scheme.