I propose to take Questions Nos. 214 and 216 together. D.):
The current 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. 904,000 customers with direct eligibility with an annual allocation of €90 million.
The scheme is available to all people aged over 66 living permanently in the State. To qualify for the scheme, applicants who are under age 66 must be in receipt of a qualifying payment. These are invalidity pension, blind pension, disability allowance, carer’s allowance or an equivalent social security payment from a country covered by EC Regulations or one with which Ireland has a Bilateral Social Security Agreement.
A companion free travel pass entitles the pass holder to have any one person, aged 16 years or over, to accompany him/her free of charge when travelling. In addition to this, people in receipt of carers allowance or benefit from my Department are also entitled to a free travel pass in their own right. Therefore if the person being cared for has a companion travel pass they can nominate a person other than the carer to travel with them and the carer may travel on the single free travel pass they have received.
Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme (SWA) the Department of Social Protection may award a travel supplement in any case where the 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 case, taking account of the nature and extent of the need and of the resources of the person concerned.
There are no plans at this time to increase the number of free travel companions that may travel without charge under the scheme. Any such expansion would have significant budgetary implications, particularly if it was a general, rather than a targeted provision, such as that already provided for under the SWA travel supplement.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.