Thursday, 17 December 2020
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Free Travel Scheme
419. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if consideration will be given to extending the applicability of the free travel pass to taxis for persons who do not have access to a public transport route but need to travel for medical or hospital appointments. [44334/20]
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 companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators. There are currently approx. 981,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2020 is €95 million.
The objective of the free travel scheme is to ensure that older people and people with disabilities remain active within their community. The Free Travel Scheme was never intended to provide additional transport options to travel pass holders but to allow them access to existing services available from transport providers who participate in the scheme.
One of the key aspects of the free travel scheme is that the service provided is via open, publicly available services. Taxis are private hire vehicles and any decision to allow free travel pass holders to use their free travel passes on a category of private hire vehicles would lead to similar requests from other groups that provide private hire vehicles. This would place significant extra costs and additional administrative complexities on the free travel scheme. It would lead to a fundamental change to the nature of the Free Travel Scheme and would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.
The provision of accessible public transport in rural areas is a matter for the Minister for Transport. In this regard, my Department provides an annual funding contribution of €1.5 million from the Free Travel budget provision towards the Transport for Ireland Local Link Programme, which is administered by the National Transport Authority under the auspices of the Department of Transport. The Programme provides services to people whose travel needs are not met by existing bus or train services. The Programme aims to enhance and sustain nationwide accessibility through community based participation, particularly for those at risk of social exclusion. Services provided include door to door services on certain routes.
Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) Scheme supports may be available to assist with necessary travel costs. The support can either be on a once-off basis as an exceptional needs payment or as a supplement where there is an ongoing need. There is no automatic entitlement to such payments. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned. At the end of 2019, 141 persons were in receipt of a Travel Supplement. In addition, over 17,200 exceptional needs payments were made in 2019 to assist with travel costs, at a cost of almost €1.2 million.
I hope this clarifies the matter.