Tuesday, 24 January 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Young Adult Travel Card
I welcome the Minister of State. This matter relates to the young adult travel card. The Minister of State might recall that on 4 September 2022, a scheme was introduced whereby all students attending colleges and universities and doing apprenticeships and training courses would received a 50% reduction in the travel fare in order to allow them to attend their courses, etc. A few months ago, I asked that the Minister extend this further to include all students.I was glad that scheme was introduced and I welcome it. It makes for good public transport by making it more attractive. The discount is a great idea, not just from a cost-of-living point of view but also from a climate perspective. As the Minister of State knows, the 50% reduction relates to journeys to and from college in the South. As I said, this has been very welcomed and well received by all concerned.
Unfortunately, there is an issue with the scheme, one which I raised with the then Minister the last time I tabled a Commencement matter, regarding students from the Republic of Ireland who are attending colleges north of the Border. I understand there are approximately 2,000 such students. They live predominantly but not exclusively in the Border counties, as they come from various parts. Unfortunately, the scheme, as currently designed, does not cater for those individuals, which is unfair. I asked the Minister to have this examined and he stated he would get on to the Department with a view to having that done. When I contacted the Department and National Transport Authority, NTA, I was told that for a student from the Republic of Ireland attending a college in the North, the 50% fare reduction would apply for the portion of the journey that takes place in the South. However, the reduction does not apply to the portion of the journey taken in Northern Ireland. This is unfair to the students in question and their families given the cost-of-living increases. As the Minister of State knows, sending a child to college is very expensive. I ask that fairness be brought into the scheme.
There is a precedent for this in that pensioners with travel cards are able to travel north of the Border. The card is as good in the North as it is in the South, and rightly so. From a shared island perspective and with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaching, it is high time that this worthwhile and welcome scheme was extended to all students.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport. I thank the Senator for raising it, as I know he has done previously.
I understand the Senator is asking that the young adult card scheme be extended to include 50% discounted journeys to colleges in Northern Ireland. The Department for Transport has responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. However, the Department is not involved in the day-to-day operation of public transport services nationally. The NTA has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally by way of public transport service contracts and for the allocation of associated funding to the relevant transport operators.
I reassure Senator Gallagher that the Government is strongly committed to providing all citizens with reliable and realistic sustainable mobility options, and public transport plays a key role in the delivery of that goal. To support this objective, in budget 2023, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, secured €563 million of funding for public service obligation, PSO, and Local Link services this year. As Members are aware, last year, in recognition of the importance of incentivising more young people to use public transport, the Minister secured €25 million in funding for the introduction of the young adult card. Funding has again been secured under budget 2023 for the continuation of this exciting initiative, through which 19- to 23-year-olds can avail of an average discount of 50% across all services, including city, intercity and rural services. Mature students in full-time education are also included in the scheme, as are eligible visitors to Ireland within the young adult age cohort.
The young adult card was initially introduced on PSO services on 9 May and this extended to participating commercial bus operators on 4 September. Everybody was thankful for that extension because PSO services were not available in many areas.
To get to the nub of the Senator's question on the young adult card scheme and the future growth of the scheme to include 50% discounted journeys to colleges in Northern Ireland, I am happy to clarify that third level students can avail of a 50% reduction over the normal adult fares charges on the entire route, assuming that the origin of the journey and the third level institution are both in the South. I am pleased to have been able to clarify that. This means, for example, that if 90% of the journey is through the South and the remaining 10% is through Northern Ireland, the 50% discount will then only apply to the 90% of the journey that is carried out within the State.There seems to be a little bit of a contradiction there from what I am hearing. On the one hand we are saying that third level students can avail of a 50% reduction over the normal adult fare charges on the entire route, assuming the origin of the journey and the third level institution are both in the South.
Very briefly, I thank the Minister of State for the response. I appreciate that this is not her Department but I have to express my disappointment with the response I have received from the Department. I was given an undertaking that the Minister would look at this. I ask, respectfully, that the Minister of State communicate with the Minister again. This is discrimination against approximately 2,000 young students, which is 2,000 families, in the Republic of Ireland. At a time when we are talking about a shared island and the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, this is a slap in the face for those people.