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 eligible people with free travel, primarily at off-peak periods, on services provided by some 48 public or private transport operators which includes the CIE Group, Northern Ireland Railways, 36 private bus operators, nine private ferry operators and one private airline operator. Currently, about 470,000 people qualify for free travel at an estimated annual cost this year of some £32.7 million.
I have no plans at the present time to introduce an allowance in respect of free travel to qualified people in the circumstances mentioned by the Deputy. Such an allowance would have cost implications which would have to be considered in the light of available resources.