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.