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. 953,000 customers with direct eligibility. In Budget 2019 the funding for the free travel scheme was increased by €5 million to a total of €95 million.
The Free Travel Companion Pass scheme was introduced in 1990 for persons who qualify for the Free Travel scheme and who, on account of their disability, are unable to travel alone. It enables a person 16 years of age or over to accompany the pass holder free of charge.
A free travel cardholder aged 66 or over may qualify for a companion pass if they are:
- aged 66 to 69 inclusive and are medically assessed as unfit to travel alone;
- aged 70 or over and are medically unfit to travel alone;
- receiving full-time care and attention from someone who is in receipt of Carer's Allowance from my Department;
- certified by either the Irish Wheelchair Association or by their GP as being a permanent wheelchair user.
A free travel cardholder aged under 66 may qualify for a companion pass if they are getting a qualifying payment and are:
- assessed as unfit to travel alone;
- certified by either the Irish Wheelchair Association or by their GP as being a permanent wheelchair user;
- receiving full-time care and attention from someone who is in receipt of Carer's Allowance from this Department;
- a widowed person / surviving civil partner aged between 60 and 65 years inclusive, whose late spouse / civil partner held a Free Travel Card from this Department, and who at the time of his / her death, resided with him / her on a permanent basis.
A person who is blind or severely visually impaired and satisfies the blindness condition for the Blind Pension or is registered as a blind person with either the National Council for the Blind of Ireland or the National League of the Blind of Ireland may qualify for a companion pass at any age. This is the only circumstance in which a person aged under 66 may receive a free travel companion pass while not in receipt of a qualifying payment from my Department.
Any decision to allow for discretionary travel passes would have significant costs implications for the free travel scheme and would need to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.