The free travel scheme is currently available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over, to carers and to customers under 66 who are in receipt of certain disability type payments. There are currently over 780,000 customers in receipt of free travel.
The scheme permits customers to travel for free on most CIE public transport services, LUAS and a range of services offered by up to 90 private operators in various parts of the country. Free travel is also available on cross border journeys to and from Northern Ireland. Customers aged 66 years and over can travel for free on journeys within Northern Ireland.
The cost to the Department for each free travel pass normally depends on how much the pass is used by the pass holder. If a person does not use their free travel pass there is no cost to the Department apart from the administrative cost of issuing the pass and maintaining records.
Transport companies are paid on the basis of fares foregone. The Department pays the CIE Group centrally in respect of transport services provided under the free travel scheme. The apportionment of payment between the three constituent companies, Bus Eireann, Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus, is determined by CIE based on passenger numbers.
The private operators are paid on the basis of fares forgone based on surveys carried out before they join the free travel scheme and subject to review by subsequent surveys.
The free travel scheme was frozen by the previous Government at €77 million as outlined in the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 and Budget 2011. This cap remains in place. Prior to the freeze the rate of payment to companies was reviewed annually and adjusted on the basis of changes in rates of fares and numbers of eligible customers. However, it has not been possible to increase the level of funding provided to existing operators or to accept additional routes or providers within the scheme since the introduction of the cap.