Dáil Éireann - Volume 556 - 24 October, 2002

Written Answers. - Free Travel Scheme.

  40. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will introduce a voucher scheme for taxis instead of the free travel pass for rural areas where there is no public transport service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19521/02]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The free travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. 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 80 private transport operators. The vast majority of these private contractors operate in rural areas. The underlying feature of the scheme is the use of spare capacity.

  My Department is always willing to consider further applications from licensed private transport operators who may wish to participate in the free travel scheme. While my Department pays transport providers to operate the free travel scheme, it is not in a position to provide services where none exists.

  In this regard, an interdepartmental committee on rural transport has commissioned a study on the availability of transport services in rural areas. I understand the study is nearing completion and will be published before the end of this year.

  In addition, 33 community groups have been selected to receive funding under the rural transport initiative, RTI. The aim of the funding is to encourage innovative community-based initiatives to provide transport services in rural areas with a view to addressing the issue of social exclusion in rural Ireland which is caused by lack of access to transport. This initiative is being managed by Area Development Management, ADM, on behalf of the Department of Transport and funding of approximately €6 million has been provided for this purpose.

  My Department is in discussions with Department of Transport and ADM on the role of the free travel scheme in regard to these pilot projects.