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.
The free travel scheme was introduced in 1967. It is not operated as a public service obligation (PSO) and it does not confer any financial advantage on participating transport undertakings. The scheme operates in an objective and transparent manner and on the basic premise that participants should be left no better or worse off as a result of the existence of the scheme. To this end, compensation under the scheme is calculated on the basis of fares foregone at a reduced rate to take account of travel generated by the free travel scheme.
Participation in the scheme is not compulsory for those licensed to provide public transport, and the criteria for such licensing is not under my Department's remit.
There are currently over 940,000 customers with direct eligibility. Following Budget 2019 the funding for the free travel scheme was increased by €5 million to a total of €95 million. In Budget 2018 a further provision of €10 million was made available for the existing scheme to facilitate more private commercial operators joining the free travel scheme for the first time, existing participants adding more routes, and operators returning to the scheme where they had previously withdrawn. My Department also provides €1.5 million in funding towards the rural transport programme which enables the development of better links between local/rural transport, and scheduled bus/rail services.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.