Written Answers. - Free Travel Scheme.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

759 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he has received representations from retired workers' associations and other groups seeking to have the free travel scheme extended and the present time restrictions removed which would enable pensioners and others entitled to free travel to avail of the service between 7 a.m. to 9.45 a.m. and from 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. Monday to Friday inclusive and on Bus Éireann long distance buses from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Fridays for up to 20 miles out of Cork, Dublin or Limerick, in view of the need on limited occasions for retired persons and other eligible persons holding free travel permits to make necessary journeys for medical or family reasons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2016/99]

The free travel scheme 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 social welfare type payments. The scheme provides free travel, primarily at off-peak periods, to eligible people on the main public and private transport services. At the end of 1998, over 530,000 people qualified for free travel at an annual cost of £32.6 million.

Time restrictions have been a feature of the free travel scheme since its inception. They do not, however, apply in the case of mentally handicapped people, people attending long-term rehabilitation courses and certain other disabled or blind people.

The central issue in regard to time restrictions relates to capacity constraints. Time restrictions have been put in place because the transport companies concerned are under severe pressure from commuters travelling to and from work and school in the morning and evening.

There are no peak time travel restrictions on DART or suburban rail services provided by CIE and private transport operators in other parts of the country.

An exception to the peak time travel restrictions is made in the case of people in receipt of disability allowance and blind person's pension who attend recognised long-term rehabilitation courses and for certain invalidity pensioners engaged on work experience programmes. These clients are issued with an unrestricted free traval pass which enables them to travel during the normally restricted travel times.

A small number of representations have been received from groups and individuals regarding the restrictions on the free travel scheme.

The free schemes generally were originally designed to benefit mainly older people in receipt of a social welfare type payment who were living alone and required additional assistance.

However, over the years, additional categories of people have been included. It is proposed to undertake a fundamental review of the free schemes, including the free travel scheme, commencing in March 1999, to assess whether the objectives of these schemes are being achieved in the most effective and efficient manner. The Deputy's proposal will be examined as part of this review process.