Thursday, 13 June 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna (Atógáil) - Commencement Matters (Resumed)
Free Travel Scheme
I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter, which deals with a very important point. It is not her area but I ask her to ensure my concerns over the need for clarification will be passed on to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty. I was approached by a free travel pass holder in the past couple of weeks who was pre-booking a seat on the Dublin to Castlebar train. In order to do so, the individual in question had to pay €21, the price of a one-way ticket. It was not free travel so I want to know if something has changed in the free travel scheme. The latest figures I can get, which are for 2017, show that €77 million was given to various companies by the Government for the scheme. This is serious discrimination because it is not free travel when one has to pay the full price of a ticket. People who have travel passes are either elderly or have a disability and they are the people who most need a seat when travelling. I ask for clarification. If there has been a change, it needs to be reviewed forthwith.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty.As Senators will be aware, the free-travel scheme is available for all people aged over 66 years, carers and people in receipt of certain disability-type payments. Currently, 944,000 customers are in receipt of the scheme, with an annual allocation of €95 million, and it covers CIÉ transport, Luas and some 80 private operators.
The scheme was introduced to promote social inclusion and prevent the isolation of elderly and disabled people by taking advantage of free space on public transport services. As previously stated, it permits free travel on services provided by operators which accept the pass; it does not guarantee a seat on every service. It is at the discretion of companies participating in the free travel scheme if they wish to offer seat-reservation services to their customers on certain services. There is no requirement on Irish Rail or any other participating transport provider to provide the facility to free travel pass holders, nor to any other customer.
The Department has been informed Irish Rail provides an option to a range of ticket holders, including free travel pass holders, to book a seat-only reservation to ensure a seat on heavily loaded Irish Rail services. Customers with a free travel pass who wish to reserve seats can avail of the offer by logging on to the Irish Rail website and entering their travel requirements. I understand that Irish Rail has set the cost for booking a seat from €2.50 per person per leg of journey where such a facility is available. Wheelchair users who wish to reserve a seat on Irish Rail services can do so by emailing or telephoning Irish Rail at no charge. The provision of such a facility as pre-booking is outside the remit of the Department. Any queries about the advance booking of seats on public transport services and the cost of such bookings should be addressed to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
The information the Minister of State has been given is that the minimum cost of booking a seat is €2.50, but I was giving an example of a person who had to pay the full fare of €20.99, or the price of a one-way ticket. That is not free travel. Other problems were raised, such as the screens often not showing which seats have been pre-booked. The issue for the Department is whether the full price must be paid by a free travel pass holder, or whether it means that travel is no longer free in this case. I would like that to be clarified and would appreciate if the Minister of State would seek the answer from the Minister. I, too, will contact her on the matter.
I will raise the matter again with the Minister but we should also raise it with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. While I will undertake to do so, I am sure the Senator will do the same.