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. 979,000 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 as a targeted support for people with severe mobility issues. Financial support may be provided to a wheelchair user in the circumstances the Deputy has outlined through the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme (SWA). Under the SWA scheme my Department may award a travel supplement, in any case where the particular circumstances of the case so warrant. The supplement is intended to assist with ongoing or recurring travel costs that cannot be met from the client’s own resources and are deemed to be necessary. Every decision is based on consideration of the circumstances of the individual case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned.
My Department provides an annual funding contribution of €1.5 million towards the Transport for Ireland Local Links Programme, which is administered by the National Transport Authority. 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. There are improvements in access to a range of transport support schemes available to persons with disabilities in the State and ongoing work is being carried out by Government Departments, agencies and transport providers, to further improve access to public transport services.
In addition to services supported by my Department, the Revenue Commissioners operate a Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme. This scheme provides VRT and VAT relief, an exemption from road tax and a fuel grant to drivers and passengers with a disability, who qualify under the relevant criteria set out in governing regulations made by the Minister for Finance. Specifically adapted vehicles driven by persons with a disability are also exempt from payment of tolls on national roads and toll bridges. Transport Infrastructure Ireland has responsibility for this particular scheme.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.