Written Answers. - Free Travel Scheme.

Hugh Byrne

Question:

168 Mr. H. Byrne asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his attention has been drawn to the fact that most people in wheelchairs are allocated free transport passes which apply only to public transport; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that this transport is not adapted for wheelchairs and consequently people in wheelchairs cannot use public transport; and if he will extend the free transport scheme for such people to taxi services or alternatively ensure the adaptation of the public transport to accommodate the wheelchair-bound. [8745/96]

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 under that age who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. The scheme provides free travel, primarily at off-peak periods, to eligible people on the main public and private transport services. Currently, about 470,000 people qualify under the free travel scheme at an estimated annual cost this year of some £32.7 million.

I fully appreciate the difficulties faced by wheelchair users when accessing public transport. In recent months, my Department has contacted all of the transport operators currently participating in the free travel scheme requesting details of arrangements which they have in place to cater for the specific needs of disabled or infirm people wishing to use their transport services. In general terms, most of the operators are able to provide some limited form of facility for disabled passengers such as special boarding ramps or steps, reserved spaces, etc. Some respondents said that they would be prepared to adapt their vehicles or invest in new vehicles if they received financial assistance.

I will continue to keep the question of accessible transport for infirm people or people with disabilities under review to see if improvements can be achieved, within the scope of my Department's free travel scheme, having regard to the resources available to the scheme.