Written Answers. - Free Travel Scheme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

746 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the concessions in relation to free travel for visiting retired citizens of the European Union available in other member states of the Union. [1259/99]

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

747 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the cost of extending free travel concessions to all retired citizens of the European Union visiting Ireland. [1260/99]

It is proposed to take Questions Nos. 746 and 747 together.

The free travel scheme is available to all people resident in Ireland, irrespective of nationality, aged 66 years or over, and also to certain people with disabilities 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. At the end of December 1998, free travel passes had been issued to over 530,000 people at an estimated annual cost of over £32 million.

The scheme was extended in 1995 to cover cross-Border travel only, between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is available to passholders in Ireland, their spouses or companions in the case of people holding companion passes, and to Northern Ireland concession travel passholders. The scheme does not apply to either sea or air routes between this country and Great Britain.
The information requested by the Deputy in relation to concessions currently available to retired people in other member states is not available in my Depaertment. However, it is understood that the Deputy is referring to the question of a European pass for senior citizens which would grant a wide range of concessions including transport across the European Union. At the end of 1997 Age Concern England completed a study of this matter with the support of the EU Commission. It is understood that the EU Commission is considering this report.
Extending the free travel scheme to all retired citizens of the European Union visiting Ireland would have policy, cost and administrative implications bearing in mind that the scheme is based on spare seating capacity being available on public transport during off-peak hours only.
Bord Fáilte estimates that approximately 230,000 EU citizens over the age of 65 visited Ireland in 1997. Of this number, approximately 120,000 did not use a car or private coach during their stay. It is not possible to estimate the take-up of the travel facility by this group and hence the cost but it is clear that it could be significant.
The free schemes 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 objectvies of these schemes are being achieved in the most efficient and effective manner and the issue of extending free travel concessions to retired EU citizens visiting Ireland will be examined as part of this review process.